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.