Posted by: Steve Coplan | January 26, 2006

The other type of green

When I was 16 I spent three months in Israel, a portion of which was on a kibbutz not far from the Gaza Strip. This happened to be around the time of the first Palestinian ‘intifadeh’, when Hamas first emerged as a political force in the Gaza Strip – one of the world’s largest slums. Since then, the movement has only grow in force and influence, and now has won the second parliamentary elections in the ‘Palestinian Territories’. Traditionally, Palestinians have not been particularly extreme in their religious views, and certainly many of the early leaders (including Yasser Arafat) of the Palestine Liberation Organization were secular, socialist or even Christian. Abdel Nasser was after all the ‘godfather’ of the organization. So what accounts for the rise of an Islamic fundamentalist party in what remains a moderate society? In simple terms, Hamas has delivered. As the Palestinian economy and Gaza in particular goes from bad to worse, Hamas has deepened its social welfare projects, stepping into the vacuum to provide social services. Fatah – the political arm of the PLO – has excelled in corruption, ‘misplacing’ millions of dollars in aid. But the development couldn’t come at a worse time for Israel. With Ariel Sharon incapacitated, and the balance of power precariously perched, bureaucrat Ehud Olmert thinks his best strategy is to act the strong man. Israel rules out talks with Hamas. The opportunity here is to for the first time recognize Islamic fundamentalism as a political response to a political problem – the deplorable state of governance in the Middle East – and move forward. Somehow, I have the sinking feeling, it’s not going to happen.

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