Commentary Magazine


Palestinians Hold Their Governments Accountable. Shouldn’t the West?

With protesters being slaughtered in Libya and Bahrain, the saga of the Palestinian Authority elections has understandably garnered little attention. But their cancellation immediately after being called last week, due to Hamas’s refusal to participate, is worth a closer look, because it explodes one of the West’s favorite myths: that Israel’s blockade of Gaza strengthened Hamas.

If that were true, Hamas ought to jump at the prospect of elections. After all, it won the last election; now, with its increased popularity, it would surely secure an even bigger win that would force the West to finally end its boycott and acknowledge the Hamas government’s legitimacy.

Except that Hamas, unlike the West, knows that its popularity has actually plummeted: every recent poll has shown that it would be trounced by Fatah. A December poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, for instance, found Fatah beating Hamas 42 percent to 24 percent in the West Bank and 48 percent to 26 percent in Gaza. And since voicing support for Fatah can be dangerous in Hamastan, the real gap in Gaza might be even wider.

That’s because Palestinians, unlike the West’s useful idiots, aren’t idiots; they’re capable of understanding cause and effect: in the West Bank, where no rockets are being fired at Israel, there’s also no Israeli blockade.

They also understand that the daily fire from Gaza isn’t an act of God, but a deliberate choice by Hamas: even when the organization isn’t launching rockets itself, its consistent policy has been not to use its vast security apparatus to keep other organizations from doing so — unlike in the West Bank, where PA forces do make some effort to stop anti-Israel terror.

Finally, they understand that Hamas couldn’t care less about them. Just consider what happened when, under international pressure, Israel finally eased its blockade last year: Hamas promptly imposed its own ban on most imports from Israel, because that would reduce its income from the smuggling tunnels.

Nor is this an isolated incident. There’s also the shutdown of Gaza’s major power plant last year, because Hamas didn’t want to pay for the fuel, as well as the Hamas-Fatah dispute that has kept many Gazans from getting passports. Most recently, there was last month’s critical shortage of medicines in Gaza: Hamas claimed that the PA had stopped sending them, but the PA denied this, countering that Hamas was stealing the shipments and selling the drugs to earn additional cash.

Needless to say, none of these outrages has elicited a peep from nongovernmental organizations and Western leaders; they would rather continue blaming Israel for Gaza’s “humanitarian crisis.” Evidently, they feel it’s perfectly acceptable for a Palestinian government to abuse its own people.

But if the revolts sweeping the Arab world should have taught the West anything, it’s that ordinary Arabs don’t agree. They want their own governments held accountable. And it’s high time for Western leaders and NGOs to start helping the Palestinians in this endeavor, instead of reiterating the tired canard that it’s all Israel’s fault.

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