Thursday, January 26, 2006

Perceptions

While I haven't been following the run-up to the Palestinian elections as closely as I could have, hearing about the Hamas victory has got me thinking. While the world recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization, it is also fairly well known that they have a well-established social welfare machine, providing services for the poor and maintaining a series of medical clinics and educational institutions. Given the poverty in the Palestinian territories and the lack of infrastructure, the framework provided for Palestinians by Hamas has filled a serious need. When this factor is combined with the prevalent belief that the government of Prime Minister Abbas and his Fatah party are incredibly corrupt, it should come as no surprise that Hamas came out of the elections as the big winner. Given the terrible situation in Gaza and other Palestinian areas, should it really come as a surprise that people voted for the group that has seemingly given the most back to the Palestinian community, providing desperately needed services and institutions, and generally looking out for Palestinian welfare interests?

While the root of many problems that the Palestinians face is the Israeli occupation, the Palestinian people have come to realize that their previously elected government did nothing to alleviate their day-to-day suffering, squandering monetary donations from around the world on God knows what (this money certainly didn't reach the Palestinian on the street), allowing corruption to run rampant in the various halls of power, and refusing to be held accountable for any of their actions, no matter what the realm. Yesterday's elections were an opportunity to change this course, and change it they did.

Of course, I would be remiss if I neglected to address aspect of Palestinian attitudes towards Israel, and the part these attitudes might have played in the elections as well. The question that comes to mind is how much emphasis Palestinians placed on Hamas' clearly stated objectives vis a vis Israel. In other words, what was the primary factor in deciding how to vote? Were Palestinians voting for Hamas' proven social welfare track record, or were they voting for Hamas' policies regarding Israel? Perhaps they voted based on the social welfare aspect, and see the Israel-related policies as being a bonus, so to speak. It would be interesting to see such a breakdown, to learn what made people vote the way they did, to understand on which issues the greater importance was placed.

I am reminded of the last Israeli elections, when the nation overwhelmingly elected Ariel Sharon and the Likud party to another term in office as the ruling party. It seems to me that when it comes to elections, we are constantly having to compromise on different issues, to establish our priorities and decide what is personally important. I think that many people voted for the Likud out of a sense of need for continuity, and (excuse the military analogy) not wanting to change the general in the middle of the war. People put aside their discomfort with the scandals, the police investigations, the fact that the economy was absolutely devastated, and voted for the man they felt would bring them security (for the record, I didn't vote for Sharon and the Likud). Security became the national priority, and the Israeli voting public overwhelmingly decided that the other contenders were not up to the mission. Social welfare seems to be playing a greater role in the current election campaign, and while the outcome has pretty much been decided in the media and among the various pollsters, it will be interesting to see how much the social welfare platform actually affects the Israeli voters.

Rumor has it that in the last US elections, many people voted for George Bush (don't even want to go down that road...) due to his moral stance. They didn't care that the economy was falling apart, or that the country found itself mired in a war of their own making in Iraq, with no end in sight. They felt that the moral fabric of the United States was on the verge of falling apart, and that George Bush was the one who would be able to hold it together.

I am in no way trying to compare Hamas to Likud or to George Bush. In my mind, one is a terror organization, and the other two entities political (with varying intellectual capacities). In the minds of others, Hamas is the valiant social welfare/political entity, while the Likud (and for many, Sharon, despite the disengagement and the new direction he'd begun to take prior to his current medical situation) and George Bush are seen as the terrorists. It is just interesting to see what factors motivate people to vote the way they do, and it is interesting to see how different leaders are perceived by each group.

9 comments:

Savtadotty said...

An optimistic interpretation: when Hamas decides to make real compromises, it will be much easier for Palestinians to swallow, just as Sharon's credibility allowed him to change directions when pragmatism dictated.

I hope it won't take too long, and meanwhile they clean up their inflammatory educational materials.

Roba said...

I am dismayed that this may cause a stronger shift towards conservatism and religiousness in Palestine- both of which have increased throughout the years as a result of oppression and poverty. And now with the Hamas stated goal of establishing an Islamic theocracy...

The skeptic, secular me feels like this will cause a decline in tolerance and open-mindedness, which will thus lead to a decrease in logical discussions and interactions both socially and politically.

Ahhh...

d.K. said...

This is an interesting post that deals with complicated, complex questions. But when I read this sentence, "In my mind, one is a terror organization, and the other two entities political (with varying intellectual capacities)." I laughed out loud. Thanks for lightening things up a bit with some wry humor. It makes every situation a little bit better. :)

nrg said...

Excellent questions. I know that many of my friend's in the US voted for Bush while being completely opposed to some of his standpoints. And others who went for Kerry for no other reason than, "he isn't George W". Are these sound voting principals? Maybe. Is voting for the better of two bad choices sound? I suppose it is better than not voting at all. It is entirely possible that some Palestinians voted Hamas DESPITE their stance on Israel. Because the ultimate question one asks is "how will the party I choose make MY life better". If you are poor, starving, and ignored by your current government, it seems logical to vote with a side that promises to give you more, or that has given more.

It is an illogical hop to draw the conclusion that (in the mind of the voter) a vote for Hamas was a vote against Israel or against peace. That may prove to be a side effect of the vote, but may not have been the driving factor.

Great topic. Thought provoking!

DemoBlogger said...

Very interesting post. I have linked to it on my blog, DemoBLog, which covers global democracy struggles.

Anonymous said...

Hamas 73% electoral gain , I would be remiss if I neglected to address aspect of Palestinian attitudes towards Israel as an abrasive occupying power , and the part these attitudes might have played in the elections as well. The question that comes to mind is how much emphasis Palestinians placed on Hamas' not all those who voted for Hamas have any political affinity to Hamas as much as for what Hamas stand for as a change in a political forum .What has Palestinians gained so far from dialogue with Israel from Oslo in 1994 Palestinians support for the Oslo accord was 60% to no avail to date Israel neglected that after 55 years of occupation there is still a Palestinian Identity that wants Israel to honor the UN charter 57 years ago at the establishment of the state of Israel ,Israel accepted UN resolutions ( it is worth researching them )such was accepted by Israel as a connection to its establishment to the creation of the state of Palestine .Clearly stated objectives vise a Vi's Israel not delivering any of its commitments to the road map and the likes .and the Absolute American unconditional backing to Israel 40 American VITOS ,and the Israeli UN reps standing up among the middle of the UN assembly taring and throwing the very UN resolutions such an EGO. In other words, what was the primary factor in deciding how to vote? Were Palestinians voting for Hamas' proven social welfare track record? No they were voting for Hamas' policies regarding how to deal with Israel? I doubt if they voted for social welfare aspect, they voted for someone to fight the Israel oppressive -related policies as being a major factor , so to speak. It would be interesting to see such a breakdown, to learn what made people under ugly occupation vote the way they did, it is the new strategy of Hamas aligned by Hezbollah ,Syria , Iran and all the awakening Islamic brotherhoods ,such would make USA think twice on how to act and what dialogue to approach Hamas and the rest of the Islamic terror holding organisations . understanding that now USA has a conflict of interest , on which issues USA have the greater importance of interests are to be based on ?with the Islamic wave winning .The only logic to stop Hamas ,is for Israel to withdraw to 67 documented Israeli committed of withdrawal .
Such is not only a wining factor for the present Hamas ,as much as a first step to protect the Greater Israel .

Udge said...

Wait and see, they might just surprise us all. I hope.

And now for something completely different: Tagged you, you're it.

Liza said...

savtadotty: The question is, will Hamas ever reach that kind of decision? I heard this morning on the radio that while Hamas is not planning to alter its current ideology, it would not object to an open-ended cease fire. This may be the best thing that Israel could hope for, under the circumstances.

roba: I fear that you may be right, and am especially concerned as to how this will affect the status of Palestinian women, given how poorly they have fared under other Islamic regimes (Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan under the Taliban come to mind, as well as Iran and Muslim enclaves in various African countries).

I imagine that we are all waiting to see how Palestinian society will change under Hamas rule, and I wonder if the very democratic process that enabled this outcome to happen will now be in danger.

d.k.: It is my sense of humor that has kept me (relatively) sane throughout my adult life, even through some very dark periods.

nrg: Whenever I have voted in Israel, it has often been with a feeling that I am voting for the best of a number of bad options. I have no idea who I will vote for in the upcoming elections, as there are serious black marks going against the parties that I am most considering. I think this is a problem worldwide. My only fear in this case is that the outcome, while social welfare may be improved and government corruption cleaned up, that the society as a whole will become an Islamic theocracy, the possible outcome of which, Roba describes quite eloquently in her comment.

anonymous: You have made some valid points, but it should be noted that most Israelis feel that the Palestinians have not lived up to their end of the bargain either, with regard to disarming terror organizations, or altering educational content to reflect Israel's existence, etc. Much more could have been done by both sides to ensure the success of Oslo, but unfortunately, when it came down to it, not enough effort was made. Many say that the Israelis, as the occupying power, should have done more, and with regard to some aspects, it probably should have. That being said, however, the Palestinian government is not blameless, and must all be made accountable for its actions as well. It cannot all be blamed on Israel.

I would be very interested to know where you are writing from, as it might provide some insight as to your views. I am actually inclined to believe that social welfare and corruption issues had a lot to do with the outcome - both subjects have figured prominently in the media (at least in Israel) during the past few months, and it is well known that many Palestinians are quite fed up with the rampant government corruption, the inability of the Fatah government to prevent crime, the lawlessness and anarchy in the streets. And, given the horrible levels of poverty, I should think that people would be very much in favor of a party that already has a proven track record in providing welfare services to the poor. This was the case several years ago in Israel, when the Sephardic religious party Shas received an unpredecented number of seats in Parliament. In many development towns in the South, it was Shas that was providing much needed welfare services to the underprivileged, while the remaining politicians did nothing. As nrg put it, at the end of the day, people want food in their stomachs, a roof over their heads, medical care and education for their children.

Of course, I may be wrong and you may be right (though I believe that we were both correct with regard to different aspects, and it would indeed be interesting to see a proper breakdown), but whatever the reasons, the outcome is still the same, and while some political aspirations may have been realized by electing a party with such a strident, focused ideology, I think the Palestinians will, unfortunately, ended up paying for this through the changes that will be imposed upon them by their new Islamic government, run by an organization that has been declared a terror organization by most Western nations and world bodies.

udge: That's what we're all hoping for too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to answer me cordially ,I dont know how old or how long you have been in Israel ? you have over looked 2 factors 1- people can and they have been sustaining hunger and poverty for many years ,yet this did not change feelings of discontent to Israel ,2- do you recall the Hagana and Stern the two terror organisations that established Israel ,how many of the Israeli leaders are or were on international wanted lists for terror ,What I am trying to say is the Palestinians and for the past 57 years suffered humiliation and physical damage under unfair ugly occupation, during this period they doubled in population and intensified their Identity both in and out of the state of Israel , yet they can sustain another 5o more years ,can Israel do .
The west still think of Israeli stereotype as a well armed IDF soldier after a palestinian kid ,or pushing women aside .and the last poll in Europe with staggering percentages that the most likely dangerous state to create havok ,was Israel .
Enough is Enough I dislike Hams and what it stand for as much as other Islamic organisations ,but as a Palestinian I am humiliated and wish if Hamas can change the seen ,it is the worst of the evils ,yet one cant go on seeing how unfair Israel has been because of its might ,irrespect of your or mine intellect ,you have to see right from wrong .And if Hamas can make it right for me so be it .
Talking about education have you seen how the Image of Arab Palestinian is portrayed in your schools .
This is not the goal ,the goal is Israel has to make a stop before it is much to late ,USA cant go on forever giving Israel a piggy ride for free ,I dont want one day to stand from my glass house and watch the suffering of the Israelis inflicted by Palestinians just to get even ,Israel oppressed them beyond endurance .dont let them explode .Land what land and for what ,to day in proper Israel only 60% of land is used or occupied by Israel , what else do you the state of Israel wish to put out posts or settlements ,that one day it cant be protected .To days statistics shows the population rate in Israel has been negative until 2 years ago ,and now stabilized by transit immigration . Look in a mirror and think of the very near future . The majority of Israeli citizen are of western standards if not born in the west ,your very western standard makes you more vulnerable to be taken by those who are much less able to endure for a reprisal .nothing will or can stand as is for another 50 years this how the present Palestinian child of 10 yrs thinks ,he will stand up and get his revenge because the IDF gave him and his Family more than enough to remember ,have you been on a check point ? have you or any of your children been on a check point ,and tried to be at school on time ,because of the check points only you have alienated the Palestinians ,have you seen the statistics of women delivering at check points ? or have you checked the statistics of minors shot by the IDF by mistake ,I wish you can do something before it is to late . From my part I am doing it now .