There’s something quite remarkable in the depths of denial to which the Bush Administration, and the likes of Dennis Ross, are reaching in their take on Palestinian politics. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that Middle East “hands” are divided over whether to talk to Hamas, with longtime realists stating the obvious about the need to talk to Hamas, and even the hapless Condi Rice being forced to support Israel-Hamas truce negotiations with plausible deniability. But then comes Dennis Ross, whom as we have noted elsewhere, may be more part of the problem than part of the solution in the Middle East, with this warning against talking to Hamas: “It would give the sense that the world has to adjust to them, and immediately demoralize the Palestinians you want to work with.” Uh, Dennis… Let’s just say that had “the world” (presumably this being “the world” as in “the World Series”) adjusted to Hamas when it won the Palestinian election, we might be in a better place than we are now. As for demoralizing “the Palestinians you want to work with,” is it not time to call an end to the fantasy that Mahmoud Abbas represents the Palestinian people? Why would you want to work exclusively with a leader who can’t possibly deliver anything at the peace table? It’s frankly absurd.
It’s always worth paying attention to the polling of the Palestine Center for Social Research in Ramallah — had U.S. officials done so, they’d have noticed that Hamas had the momentum before the election in which they trounced Fatah. The latest PSR survey of Palestinian public opinion finds that Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh would run neck and neck with Abbas in a Palestinian presidential election, at 47% each. And that, once again, shows that Hamas has the momentum. More importantly, though, it shows that if the Fatah candidate were the imprisoned Marwan Barghouti, he would receive 58% of the vote to Haniyeh’s 38%. (Nor is this really news — polls showed that Barghouti would have trounced Abbas if he’d stood as an independent last time around, from inside his Israeli prison cell, as he briefly threatened to do.)
The “good news,” then, for those who want to see Hamas eclipsed by democratic means, is that Barghouti has made clear that he’ll consider a presidential run in 2009. The bad news, of course, is that Barghouti, easily the most popular leader in Fatah because of his reputation as uncorrupt and willing to stand up to the Israelis, is no more “the Palestinians that (Ross) wants to work with” than is Haniyeh. Barghouti, the closest thing the Palestinians have to a Nelson Mandela, is currently in an Israeli prison on terrorism charges. He believes in a two-state solution, but also that the Palestinians have the right to bear arms against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. And he sees Hamas not as an enemy to be eliminated, but as an ally with which Fatah should share power.
One thing that you can be sure of is that if Dennis Ross has his way and the U.S. continues to seek to work only with those Palestinians it likes (i.e. Abbas and his aides), there’s unlikely to be a Palestinian election next year — or for the foreseeable future. Nor, by the way, is there likely to be any peace.