Friday, December 12, 2008

Implications of a Poll in Palestine

A poll was published today that described relative support for Palestinian Authority parties, Hamas and Fatah. Overall, Fatah would take 42% and Hamas 28%; in the Gaza Strip, Fatah leads 46%-32%.

The implications of this are extremely interesting for Persian Gulf and American governments. Here's why:

A few years ago, Hamas and Fatah fought a brief civil war in both the Gaza strip and West Bank. In Gaza, an aid-dependent territory, Hamas had strong local roots and a reputation for setting up schools and donation centers. They were popular, and in Gaza, they drove Fatah out. But Fatah was the elected government, and won in the West Bank, where trade and diplomacy happen through Israel and Jordan. Each section became a more homogenous, polarized region.

Israeli policy in Gaza looked for a while like it would drive Gazans to the lunatic fringe. Hamas reacted with massive propaganda efforts to Israel's attacks, blockades, etc. In a region so devoid of contact to the outside world, it seemed like such propaganda would work. But somehow, it hasn't. Gazans currently prefer Fatah--a party removed from Gaza's streets and consorting with Israel, Hamas' enemy. The implications of this are strong: Despite losing the civil war and appearing to sell out the Gaza strip, Fatah has won their loyalty. Throughout all of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas is being rejected by fairly impressive margins.

If Fatah can substantially win the upcoming January elections, then its moderate politics will reign supreme. If it can consolidate its power over Gaza, then it can begin to enforce moderate policies and suppress Hamas' anti-Israeli terror behavior. If and only if it can suppress this behavior will its 2-state policy have a chance. Israel cannot give up some control of the PA until it knows that it will not be a hotbed for terror--it cannot take it back as easily as it can simply hold on.

But the other implications are perhaps more interesting, in Israel. If the moderate Fatah party can take control of all of the Palestinian Authority, then Israeli perceptions about the PA may change. If the Israelis see hope in 2-state negotiations, if they see that such negotiations may lead to long-term peace and prosperity rather than increased terrorism and demands by radical Islamist leadership, then Israelis may be more tempted to vote Kadima and continue negotiations rather than throw their hands up and oust the government for the Likud opposition.

If Fatah and Kadima can get a new mandate and a stronger political hold over their respective territories, then the 2-state negotiations are likely to have a lot more hope in the next few years--particularly if such moderates in power allow the Israeli-Syrian peace talks to resolve. The machinations for Middle East negotiations have been shaken up significantly by the last years' actions, but they may not have fallen apart.
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