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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

 

Doing the Math on Hamas

The St. Louis Jewish Light

March 22, 2006
Gloria Gordon and Diane Balser

The victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections is cause for great concern within the American Jewish community. Not only is Hamas on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, but its charter calls for the destruction of Israel and it has repeatedly perpetrated acts of terror and violence that target innocent civilians.

For that majority of American Jews who are committed to Israel’s well-being through a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is difficult not to see this development as a major step backward.

As hard as it may be to find hope, there are many concrete reasons to mute our despair and to continue with like-minded Palestinians to struggle for peace.

Not least, the fact that a clear majority of Palestinians have said for years that they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. A recent report issued by the United States Institute for Peace found that in 2005, 63 percent of Palestinians support the establishment of two states that recognize each other as the national homes of their respective peoples and 60 percent oppose attacks against Israeli civilians.

There’s no argument that some portion of Hamas’ electoral base saw their vote as a blow against the Jewish State. However, in yet another poll of Palestinians released on Jan. 30 by the Near East Consulting Institute, 73 percent of all surveyed believe that Hamas should “change its position on the elimination of the state of Israel” and 84 percent support a peace agreement with Israel, a sentiment echoed by 77 percent of those respondents who voted for Hamas. If three-quarters of Palestinians disagree with the groups fundamental tenets, the election results cannot truly be seen as a mandate for extremism.

Many observers believe that anger at Fatahs corruption, its failure to ease the burden of Israel’s occupation, and Hamas’ work providing social, educational, and health services led many Palestinians to abandon the ruling party.

Moreover, the bald numbers 74 seats for Hamas to Fatah’s 45 are themselves misleading, the result of a culmination of low percentage victories in several small regions.

The Palestinian electoral system combines district voting (voters choose between local candidtates) with a national ballot (voters choose a party). In the national party balloting, Hamas won just 44 percent of the votes, compared to Fatah’s 41 percent.

The legislative seats apportioned by national voting to these two parties were thus nearly even: 29 for Hamas versus 28 for Fatah.

The disparity between the parties in seats determined by district voting, however, was much greater: 45 for Hamas, 17 for Fatah. In many cases, though, Hamas candidates took these elections by narrow margins. No matter how narrow the victory, of course, the seats representing these districts added up, creating the impression of a landslide for Hamas.

With these numbers in mind, it seems wise to support the Bush Administration’s wait-and-see policy, urging both Israel and the U.S. to maintain open communications with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement.

Hamas must decide whether it will turn the Palestinian Authority into a pariah or, instead, amend the organization’s positions, renounce violence, and recognize Israel’s right to exist and by so doing, gain standing in the international community.

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