Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

This Just In

This Just In
© 2006 Ross Williams

Hamas won the elections.

Well, near enough. They got almost 50% of the vote, which means that in the multi-party politics of Parliamentary democracies[1] they're the odds-on favorite for running the show.

Here's how it works in democracies that are not the US: there's 15 or 20 different political parties, all roughly equally divided among the voters. When people go to the polls they vote for a party, rather than a candidate, and when the votes are all counted, seats in Parliament are apportioned according to the percentage of votes that party got in the election. If the Communist party received 22% of the votes, they get 22% of the seats in Parliament. If the Fascist party received 20% of the votes, they get 20% of the seats. If the Radical Green party got 19% of the vote, they get 19% of the seats.

Each party has candidates whose names are then pulled out of a hat, or rated by some kind of seniority system, and the seats in Parliament are handed out like door prizes to the lucky – or not so – few. So Parliament is seated, but there is still no "government". There's merely a fractious legislative body. They still need to accomplish the mundane tasks of naming a Prime Minister, and all the lesser ministers. This is done by, essentially, passing laws.

You can immediately see the problem. There is no legislative majority; the legislators were chosen as party faithfuls after a vote based entirely on party, not by the voters by candidate name. So what happens is that in order to create a "government" out of these disjointed party blocs, insider political brokering and back-room cigar-y power deals go on until a coalition of 51% of the seats in Parliament can be created. This is why nations like Canada, France, Germany and Israel have "ruling alignments" called the bizarre things they're called. Germany doesn't stoop to having a "Prime Minister", however; they have a "Chancellor". That apparently makes all the difference.

Various parties get together and make deals such as: "We'll trade you Prime Minister for Defense, Interior and Treasury." "Unacceptable. We have a larger share of Parliament, we need more Cabinet positions – Prime and Interior for us, Defense and Treasury for you..." "Okay, deal."

In our little example, we might see the Communist-Fascist-Radical Green coalition. And on the surface, it seems preposterous. Just keep in mind, though, that political philosophy aside, the methods each uses to effect their political goals are essentially identical: un-nuanced, centralized dictatorship. A pinko-greenie-black shirt government is very ... Italian.

So that's the deal with the Palestinian elections. Hamas – heretofore known as "crushingly impoverished rabble who still manage to be rich enough to buy guns and bombs and bullets" – has won a majority of the seats in the Palestinian, um, Parliament. That honor, if it can be called such, used to belong to the Fatah party – until recently headed by Yassir Arafat. Arafat, as we all know, was the corrupt and ineffectual but much-loved presidential mouthpiece for Palestinian anti-semitism. This version of anti-semitism wanted to push Israel into the sea the same as Hamas, but Fatah wanted Israel to help with the heavy lifting. Because Fatah recognized Israel would need to assist in its own destruction, Fatah has been considered relatively diplomatic. To many in Palestine, the fact that Fatah has recognized Israel's existence means that Fatah is filled with traitors.

Except for Arafat. You can't say that about Arafat, because, ... well, because.

Arafat is now dead; his political leadership of a devastatingly poor and beleaguered people has left his widow a very wealthy woman – in a suburban Paris apartment – and his much-loved corruption and incompetence was replaced by the somewhat less corrupt, but equally incompetent Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas is merely tolerated.

For decades Fatah has been called "the moderate voice" in Palestine, and it has ruled the "Palestinian Authority", the nascent political body purportedly in charge of the Palestinian people, including Hamas terrorists who resist any political authority, including their own. It seems Hamas now has the political authority they have long-resisted.

And the first thing they did with their political power is to stage a rock-throwing take-over of the Palestinian Parliament building. That's right; Hamas won control of the Palestinian legislature in an election – and hence will control the Palestinian version of "government" – so the first thing they did is rush the Parliament building as an armed rabble and pelt "the opposition" with stones.

If that doesn't bode well for the Palestinian people's future, I don't know what does. And it's not like the Fatah politicians were claiming a fraudulent election and refused to concede defeat, either. They had all resigned. Hamas simply did what they do best: militarism. Not coincidentally, they did it in such a way as to ensure success: wait until the building is virtually empty and then storm it. Typically, Hamas undertakes its military operations when their target is filled with Israeli Defense Force units, and the Hamas "soldiers" end up as dark red grease in the treads of IDF tanks.

So Hamas finally won a military engagement: they took over the Parliament building they'd just won the keys to. Give them all a medal!

The question now on everyone's minds is: what’s next? I can see many results coming, some chilling, others worthy of National Lampoon script-writers, and those in between. Here’s a few:

For decades, Hamas has been more or less subordinated to the politics of Fatah – although the victims of Hamas bombings in Haifa might want to quibble. But it's not seriously debatable that this election has stripped away any formal pretense of subduing Hamas terrorism. It could be 1948 all over again. So the first possibility is that a new "government" run by Hamas will replace the simmering Intifada with an openly declared war on Israel, and the results will be, predictably, the same as ever. Israel will kick the Palestinians' ass all over Gaza and the West Bank – as is their legitimate responsibility to Israeli citizens when being attacked – and thousands, perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands, of Palestinians will die in the inevitable carnage. Much of the rest of the world will react with horror at the one-sided slaughter and condemn, yet again, Israel for being good at self-defense rather than at the Palestinians for being incompetent murderous brutes. Many Middle Eastern nations – such as Iran and Syria – will rattle their scimitars and may even participate, with the same results as before: embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Jews.

The possibility of escalation into a world-wide war is somewhat more plausible in 2006 than it was in 1948 or 1967. Can you say "biblical prophecies"? I knew you could.

Or Fatah and Hamas might stage their own Arabic Armageddon and beat each other to death and save Israel the trouble. Hamas invasions of their own Parliament building and Fatah-led Gaza riots against future Hamas rule sure seem to be leading up to it. They might eventually succeed in doing more than breaking windows and burning cars.

What is it with Arabs and cars? They're either burning them in Paris or Gaza riots or blowing them up in Iraq. If you were from another planet and weren't hip to the politics, you might think Arabs were trying to rid the world of automobiles and innocent people just get in the way.[2]

Next, and perhaps more likely, is that Hamas will be left alone in their task of government creation – and without any formal training or experience in public policy-making or administration. Fatah has flatly rejected Hamas' request to help form a government, and Israel certainly won't help. Hamas has operated for decades on the principle that there's no political problem that can't be fixed with a judicious dose of paramilitary hooliganism – witness their first acts of political power against their own people – and it is very likely that they will use old habits in new situations. If the only tool you have is a belt of explosives, you tend to see every problem as a Tel Aviv bar mitzvah.

It is very possible that Hamas will apply its ham-handed tactics in their own government policies meant to govern the Palestinian people, and the Ramallah voters will learn for themselves what every Israeli citizen has known since The Partitioning. It would be better to be governed by a corrupt and incompetent Fatah than a corrupt, incompetent and dangerous Hamas. Giving Hamas power may very well be the act that causes their demise... from the inside out.

Then again, giving Hamas political power may just inspire them to grow the hell up, cut their hair, get a job, buy a house with a mortgage and become boring old taxpayers who grouse about another tedious dinner of fattoush and hummus with the Saeeds, and kvetch about the creeping secularism of the school board which wants to educate girls up to a 6th grade literacy. Chevy Chase is getting a bit long in the tooth to play the role of Ahmed Salim, one-time bomb-making rapscallion from Gaza City, but recently named Interior Minister of the new Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Will Ferrell seems to have assumed the Chevy Chase mantel for acting roles too embarrassing to be listed on a resume.

We open with Ferrell looking dazed and confused as he rummages in a crate among RPGs, Kalishnikovs and plastic explosives. He finds what he's looking for and places family photos – him with seven fully burqad women – on the desk of his Interior Ministry office. Steve Carell, the new Ambassador to Israel, stops by and they reminisce in flashback to their days of mirth and prankstership of blowing up cafes in Jerusalem and rocket attacks on Jewish settlements in Gaza. Ah, Intifada ... what a hoot.

But alas, they are older now, and while not necessarily wiser, they have responsibilities and the weight of governing takes its toll. Their lives become budget appropriations, pot-hole repairs[3], endless meetings with the Prime Minister – Jeremy Piven[4] – to discuss minimum wage legislation, and the like. Gone are the terrorist hijinx of their youth. Directed by Michael Lembeck.

It ends with a weary Ferrell defending the direction his life took from his son, who accuses him of becoming mainstream, while his Jewish mistress serves him bagels and lox.

Don't scoff; stranger things have happened. Menachim Begin and Yassir Arafat actually shook hands once, and they won the Nobel Peace Prize for it.

[1] yeah, Palestine, a democracy. Who knew?
[2] "He hates these cans. Stay away from the cans." Navin R Johnson, The Jerk
[3] blast crater repairs, whatever
[4] yes, he's Jewish, that’s why they call it acting


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