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Speed Bumps on Democracy Boulevard

by Patrick J. Buchanan
May 16, 2005

"When the people of the Palestinian territories went to the polls," said President Bush in Riga, Latvia, "they chose a leader committed to negotiation instead of violence ... The direction of events is clear in the Middle East. Freedom is on the march."

Well, freedom may be on the march, but in Palestine it may be marching away from moderation.

From a May 11 report in the Washington Times, the Palestinian Authority might postpone July's parliamentary elections. Why? The PA fears Hamas will sweep into power. As does Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who is warning that, if Hamas wins, Israel may scrap its withdrawal plans from Gaza and the West Bank.

"If Hamas wins, I personally think we should not withdraw," says Shalom, a Likud Party rival of Prime Minister Sharon. Sharon is committed to going ahead with the pullout.

To abort a Hamas victory, the Palestinians are preparing to postpone the July elections, perhaps for a year. "Within the clearly rattled Fatah leadership" the Arafat organization at the heart of the PA notes the Times, "many older members are pushing for elections next spring to give them time to prepare for a surge in support for Hamas. ... Others are hoping to compromise on a date in November."

And there is good reason to believe Hamas will enhance its power and credibility inside the Palestinian movement if elections are held. For Hamas swept local elections in Gaza earlier this year and this May.

Why is Hamas rising and Fatah receding? Three basic reasons.

First, though Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, its terror attacks and suicide bombings in the war for a Palestinian state have given it the same cachet among the young that Hezbollah won in Lebanon, when it was seen as the only Arab organization that fought the Israelis to a standstill and forced their withdrawal.

Second, the older Palestinian organizations like Fatah, which have been in the saddle for decades, are seen as incompetent and corrupt, while Hamas, younger and more militant, is seen as dedicated, selfless and pure the True Believers. The PA has an unenviable reputation for rampant corruption.

Third, Hamas runs visible social services programs in Gaza and on the West Bank. Their people provide benefits for and are in daily contact with a despairing and impoverished Palestinian people.

Hamas has put the Palestinian Authority on notice: Postponement of the election is "unacceptable." Sheik Hasan Yousef, leader of Hamas on the West Bank, told the Times: "We can't postpone the election. That would be a horrific setback for democratic policy."

Thus, Hamas, which Bush has branded a terror organization, looks with enthusiasm to the elections Bush has championed, while Israelis and moderate Palestinians fear Hamas will win, vault into power, and take over the leadership and negotiating portfolio of the Palestinian people.

To prevent this, Shalom says Mahmoud Abbas, the elected Palestinian leader, should block Hamas from participating in elections. If he cannot, postpone them. In brief, our friends do not want free elections held on schedule this July, because they are afraid they will lose.

In Latvia, Bush said: "Our security and true stability depend on the freedom of others. And so, with confidence and resolve, we will stand for freedom across the Middle East."

Well, that commitment is being called. Does President Bush believe the Palestinian elections should go forward and Hamas, which has observed the cease-fire, should be allowed to campaign and take office if triumphant? Does he believe the Muslim Brotherhood, which is asking to participate in elections in Egypt President Bush praised, should be allowed to run a candidate against President Mubarak? Does he believe Hezbollah should be allowed to participate freely in the Lebanese elections this year?

Among the reasons America lacks credibility among Islamic people is that we are perceived as the world's foremost practitioner of the double standard. We are indulgent toward Israel's violations of U.N. resolutions and its often-excessive use of force against the intifada, while coming down hard, with both feet, on Arabs and Palestinians.

Now it is the Islamists including an organization America has branded terrorist, Hamas who are echoing Bush on free elections, while our friends are backing away. Will Bush stand by his principles, or put them on the shelf to stand by his friends?

The chickens of the Bush crusade for global democracy are coming home to roost in the Middle East.

2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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