Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Can Hamas Be Tamed?

From Michael Herzog in Foreign Affairs.
I sometimes read Foreign Affairs but more often than not I get a little lost and am driven to get out the oul' Britannica to fill in holes. This article however, was read by me from start to finish without 1 referral to any other source. And that, Madam, must be a record.

The most important lesson to be drawn from these cases is that co-optation through political participation is not a given, but rather depends on the existence of certain conditions in the local political context. No Islamist movement has renounced violence or moderated its ideology of its own volition; when one has done so at all, it has been for lack of a better alternative. It appears that at least three factors need to be present for co-optation to occur: the existence of a strong, healthy, and relatively free political system into which the Islamists can be absorbed; a balance of power tilted against the Islamists that forces them to play by moderate rules; and sufficient time for co-optation to take effect.
A strong and healthy political system is essential because only it will offer Islamists the incentives for proper socialization. Unless elections are free and fair enough for the results to accurately reflect the popular will, there is little reason for a party to compete for new constituencies or marginal voters rather than cater to its extremist base. And unless the political order is stable and the state enforces a monopoly on authority and violence, there is little reason for a party to disarm (and much reason for it not to).

Ideally, Israeli-Palestinian relations would need to improve in tandem with conditions in the pa, so as to create a virtuous cycle that can help drive both the peace process and the Palestinian reform process forward. Because of the nature of Hamas and the threat of terrorism, final-status negotiations now seem as remote as ever. The transition of political leadership in Israel together with Hamas' newfound prominence will make extensive bilateral talks of any kind unlikely in the near term. The specter of a weak, dysfunctional PA coupled with a strong, violent Hamas is likely to deepen Israelis' inclination toward unilateralism in their relations with the Palestinians.

Ultimately, no outside party can substitute for the Palestinian leadership in creating what the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has called "the village": a domestic environment that can truly delegitimize extremism. The momentous experiment of allowing Hamas to enter democratic politics is only beginning, but even at this early point, the short-term dynamics seem bleak enough to undermine the project's long-term prospects. The time for taming Hamas may already have passed.



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