Hamas appears to have won a landslide in Palestine. It's obviously a tricky situation. Making it even trickier is the fact that most people in the US aren't getting certain crucial bits of information.
1) Hamas ran on a domestic platform. They didn't run on a "let's get the Israelis" platform. The vote should be seen not as a referendum on how to deal with Israel, but rather a rejection of the corruption that has plagued Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, and a vote for social programs and development that have not happened under Fatah. Hamas has a reputation for honesty and a history of social service, which brings us to point 2...
2) Hamas has an extensive social service program, and has long been a crucial player in relief work and economic development in Palestine. We almost never hear about Hamas activities other than their support/planning of suicide strikes against Israeli targets. The fact of the matter is that Hamas has done a lot of good work in Palestine -- funding, schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. "Approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities," writes the Israeli scholar Reuven Paz. (source here
This makes the picture a whole lot murkier than the simplified "Palestinians vote for Terror" that some talk show hosts are going to be bandying about.
Making the picture even more complicated is the fact that the elections appear to be have been an exercise in democracy that truly worked. Reports are that 78% of the eligible voters actually turned out. That's a statistic that ought to make American voters turn pink with embarrassmentt, given that our participation rates are abysmally low. I've yet to hear charges of vote fraud or voter intimidation (not that such charges may not yet come, but it isn't being bandied about yet.)
If we are serious about promoting democracy in the Middle East, Western nations are going to have to come to grips with popular choices that bring Islamist parties to power. I have to say I am not happy about Islamists coming to power; I believe in the separation of church and state, and I also believe that the shar'iah as advocated today is a miscarriage of Islamic justice, often contradicting the letter and the spirit of the Qur'an and the Prophet, and Islamist parties all advocate for Shari'ah. BUT if I'm going to be serious about democracy, then I have to accept the popular vote and work for my vision of Islam through whatever peaceful means are available.
The West's reaction to the military coup in Algeria back in the early 1990s was shameful. Rather than supporting democratically elected representatives whose world view we disagreed with, we sighed in relief when the military stepped in and voided the election results. We should have stood with the popular vote, even if we weren't happy about the outcome of that vote, and insisted that the military allow the results to stand. Aside from the wrongness of siding with usurpers and military power over democracy, the result has been a radicalization of the Islamic movement in Algeria and a deepened distrust of American posturing in support of Democracy. Democracy for all but Muslims is the way many Muslims feel America thinks.
Which also means that any move to negate the Hamas win, will only backfire.
So where does that leave us -- with little choice but to try and convince Hamas to refrain from violence. That is going to require a lot more give from Israel -- illegal settlements, the "security" wall, which annexes large tracts of Palestinian land in controvention of international law and several UN resolutions, policies of collective punishment, targeted assasination, extra judicial detention, and so on need to be eliminated. The road to real peace requires the resort to legal rather than military solutions by both sides.
Ironically, I wrote a column about this very topic this week which got picked up by the Charlotte observer.
One can only hope sanity prevails.
Often when radical groups get political power, they moderate their stances. Let's hope this is what happens with Hamas.