Hamas' victory an opportunity
Friday, February 03, 2006
Jakarta Post, Indonesia
The upset victory by Hamas in Palestine has seriously reshuffled the Middle Eastern deck of cards. Many Western commentators have already expressed their fear that the Peace Process has been harmed considerably by the electoral success of this extremist movement which at present is committed to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish State. While such a reading of the developments is certainly legitimate, alternative interpretations, slightly more positive in outlook, should not be ruled out.
Hamas, as an Islamic religious movement, represents the soul of the Palestinian people who, like many Muslims, are predominantly religious or at least traditional, maybe better than Fatah does. Fatah, a secular movement albeit with a Muslim heart that ran the Palestinian Authority into the ground, has misled Israel into believing that the religious sides of the conflict are something that could either be safely ignored or given lip service in any future Peace Agreement.
Israel, as a predominantly secular nation, felt comfortable with this illusion although some academics (and a few Rabbis as well) tried to point out the fallacy. This is not to say that Hamas' victory is an expression of a massive return to religion of the Palestinian street — far from it.
Hamas has benefited considerably from Fatah's corruption and Israel's shortsighted policies but its religiosity nevertheless is an asset, not a liability in the eyes of many Palestinians.
So now that Palestine will be led by real Islamists, Israel will have little choice to familiarize itself with a dialog that may very well take on religious overtones and this is where the opportunity lies: Muslims and Jews have a long history of living together in peace and the common origins of their religion give rise to the hope that religious leaders, on both sides, will become involved in the dialog to advance a peaceful solution to the conflict.
There are religious leaders in Hamas and in Israel who have been involved for years in an ongoing dialog. Not surprisingly, they have found a common language and often developed interesting solutions to acute issues that arose from time to time only to find themselves ignored by the secular leadership on both sides when it came to applying the solutions in earnest.
It would indeed be an irony, if religion, considered by the Western World to be at the heart of the clash with Islam, will become the mechanism to help bring this festering conflict closer to resolution.
Rabbi Menachem Fruman, one of the Rabbis who took part in the dialog with Hamas pointed out in a recent article that "Jews and Palestinians are both small peoples but they could have a great role. The Israelis as representatives of Western culture and the Palestinians as representatives of the Muslim world can build the bridge between the two worlds."
Involving religious leaders from both sides in the negotiations for peace will bring this goal closer to fruition and earn the gratitude of the entire world. Who can argue with a Rabbi ?
The writer is a former (Israeli) diplomat who served in South East Asia between 2000 and 2003.