One of the problems with promoting democracy in foreign lands lacking liberal traditions is that you get some peculiar results. Case in point: Last month’s landslide electoral victory by Hamas, the Islamic Liberation Movement, in the Palestinian Authority’s parliamentary race. At stake was continued access to and control over a billion dollars’ annual international aid. If nothing else, Fatah’s defeat proved that Yasser Arafat’s successor President Mahmoud Abbas may well be the moderate people say he is, if by “moderate” they mean feckless leader. The Fatah team showed themselves wholly incompetent in their role as corrupt third-world thugs, being unable to rig their own electoral victory. This is a mistake Hamas is unlikely to make in future elections. The new Palestinian Legislative Council has chosen young Hamas stalwart Ismail Haniyeh as its nominee for prime minister. Haniyeh is widely regarded as a pragmatist, which in the Hamas context means acknowledging that something called Israel does in fact exist, even if it has no right to.
Both the U.S. and Israel designate Hamas a terrorist organization, and have wisely chosen to cut all aid transfers (except for food and subsistence) until Hamas renounces violence, recognizes Israel, and makes other fundamental reforms. This move has brought charges of hypocrisy, to whit, that the U.S. seeks to build democracies abroad, but when the elections do not go the way we want, we attempt to reverse them. Al Qaeda used this same reasoning to question the legitimacy of the Iraqi elections, using the example of the December 1991 Algerian election, in which victory by the Islamic Salvation Front led to the declaration of a state of emergency and a ten-year civil war. The West will not tolerate a genuinely Islamic government, and will throw its democratic ideals overboard if one comes to power through the ballot.
Interesting argument, but missing the point. Promoting democracy only requires us to approve of the process; we need not be delighted with the results. And it is not hypocrisy to shift policies when foreign governments legitimately change hands. It happens all the time. For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel enjoys a much better relationship with Washington than her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder. Furthermore, the United States is under no obligation to help underwrite the finances of a government that sponsors suicide bombings. It is bad enough that Hamas seeks to create a new terror state in the Middle East, it would be ludicrous for us to pay them to do it. If anything, cutting funds to Hamas shows more consistency than hypocrisy; their program is barely distinguishable from the Taliban’s, and lately we have not been on the best of terms.
Meanwhile European diplomats are trying to find language satisfactory to Hamas that will imply their acceptance of Israel’s existence. For example, if Hamas acknowledges the provisions of a 2002 Arab peace proposal (that Israel has denounced), one could argue that by implication they have recognized Israel, since Israel is included in the proposal. This fig leaf will make it easier for the Europeans to keep the aid spigots open to the Palestinians. But obscurantist diplomats are running into difficulties with the new frankness, the growing and refreshing willingness of radical leaders to say exactly what they think, and mean what they say. We see it in the mystical musings of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Khrushchevian bluster of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. So too from the Hamas leadership, there is a decided unwillingness to relinquish violence and recognize Israel. And why should they? Intransigence was their passport to power. If the Palestinian people wanted temporizing moderates they could have kept Fatah. Violence has worked well for Hamas. (Come to think of it, it worked for Fatah too, under Arafat’s leadership.) And if the Western countries cut aid there are always people like Ahmadinejad and Chavez to help keep the dream alive.
It is hard to see what billions of dollars of Western aid money have purchased in the PA. Aid did not buy peace, nor did it garner the good will or gratitude of the Palestinian people, who, after all, were the ones who cast ballots for terrorists. Aid money did contribute markedly to the growth of the personal fortunes of corrupt Palestinian officials, but that is typical of most such handouts to authoritarian governments. I am certain politicians could find something better to do with the over $200 million we send to the PA annually. How about giving it to Afghanistan?–At least they like us. And it will be interesting to see if Hamas demands that Israel resume its payments to the PA, putting them in the position of making claims against a nation they say has no right to exist. Who then would be the hypocrites?
–James S. Robbins is author of the forthcoming Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point and an NRO Contributor.