Thursday, February 02, 2006

various scenarios

Analysis on Miftah

As the shock generated by Hamas’ unexpected victory in last week’s parliamentary elections subsides somewhat, all attention in the region is now focused on the crucial variables that remain in flux: will Hamas form the entirety of the Cabinet and insist that President Abbas appoint a Hamas-chosen Prime Minister? Will it moderate its stance on the crucial questions of the role of violence in the Palestinian resistance and the right of Israel to exist? If not, will the Western powers, on whose aid the PNA is so dependent, do as they have threatened and cut off all aid? If so, will the streets of Palestine descend into further chaos, thronged by angry – and perhaps violent -- unpaid PNA employees? Meanwhile, will Israel’s politicians – with their eyes firmly set their own impending electoral campaigns – continue to harden their stances against working with a Hamas-led PNA, thereby making any EU–engendered compromises impossibly difficult to implement? None of these questions have obvious answers, though Palestine-watchers seem to agree on three basic scenarios.

The worst case scenario:

In the worst-case scenario, Hamas forms the entire cabinet and insists that President Abbas appoints a Hamas man as Prime Minister. President Abbas acquiesces, and Parliament ratifies a mostly-Hamas cabinet. Hamas continues to make some moderate statements in the press, but its Charter – calling for violent resistance against the Israeli occupation, and for the eventual destruction of the state of Israel – remains unchanged. As a consequence, EU, the US, Russia and all major Western donors cut off aid to the PNA (though they may continue to provide aid to Palestine indirectly through local and international NGOs, as well as through the U.N.), and Israel, of course, suspends all contact with the PNA. The PNA’s fiscal bankruptcy leaves it unable to pay February salaries to the 135,000 people currently on its pay-roll, and this leads to rioting among the already ill-disciplined security forces (who number at approximately 58,000). Palestine is left, in short, bankrupt, isolated, and on the brink of civil war.

The best case scenario:

In the best-case scenario, Hamas forms a majority of the cabinet but leaves important posts, especially finance, civil affairs, and internal security, to apolitical technocrats who have the confidence of the PLC, the President, and the international community. Most importantly, the Prime Minister is also a technocrat (though he will be aligned with the more moderate elements in Hamas). Hamas amends its Charter to exclude the most objectionable provisions, and Western governments follow through on their aid commitments, thereby staving off, at least temporarily, the fiscal crisis. Israel remains distant, but does not cut off all contacts, continuing to cooperate with the PNA, for example, on important quotidian matters such as the opening of the Karni border crossing and the release of customs revenue owed to the PNA. In the absolute Panglossian case, the new post elections Israeli government makes a serious effort to re-start negotiations with the new PNA.

The middle-road outcome:

The most likely outcome is, as is usual in the case of Palestine, also the least predictable. While it is possible that Hamas will play its cards astutely, thereby not insisting on going down a path that will lead to disaster, it is also possible that anything it does will fall far below Western – and Israeli – demands. Hamas may well agree to a technocrat PM, and it may well relinquish key cabinet positions to apolitical experts (though the supply of such experts willing to work with a Hamas-led government is perilously short), but it may also refuse to amend its Charter and agree, at most, to a temporary suspension of acts intended to destroy Israel. None of this will be enough to incentivise Western donors to fulfill their commitments, although there may well be differences in policy between the Europeans and the Americans on this matter. Hamas will do what it can to collect the money to pay salaries; the sources of its funds have always been mysterious and they may continue to remain so, with alarming consequences.

The extremes of emotion engendered by the elections last week – euphoria, shock, exultation, dismay, fear – have more or less faded from Palestinian minds, only to be replaced now with one overwhelming sentiment: uncertainty. The Palestinian public, which seemed so decisively to have taken its fate in its own hands, can now only wait and watch, along with the rest of the world, to see what happens.

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