Wednesday, 20 June 2007


It is fitting today to comment upon the situation in Gaza, but, given the fact that I've not yet done sufficient French revision, I shall have to be relatively brief. Some time ago I wrote a similar post on the palestinian Problem. I expressed hope that the air strikes on Palestine by Israel would bring the Palestinians together. Unless you live in a hole, you'll know that it has not. But given the significance of today for Gaza, I'd like to share a few thoughts with you.

Hamas and Democracy

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has dissolved the Hamas-led Palestinian authority. To us sensible Brits, this seems at first the right move. Their militants have been fighting in the street, and they don't even move to separate themselves from rebels. A state of emergency is reasonable, one might well say. However, it does raise huge problems. The first move of the USA was to recognise the new government, and to condemn Hamas. This is only to be expected. The USA hadn't recognised Hamas's administration, on the grounds that it was terrorist. The logic, however, is worryingly wobbly. Terrorism is unacceptable to the US because it is not democratic: it is the military subversion of government. Yet Hamas were elected by free and fair elections, partly in protest against Fatah's corruption. This has not been questioned. I think it will remain unquestioned. Is that really the right mindset?


That question having been raised, however, we must look at another issue. Surely there is no place in politics for the existence of an Authority (not a government) which calls for the utter destruction of another state. Unfortunately, for me to hold that position would be somewhat naïf. China does not recognise Taiwan, for example. More worrying still, however, is the utter violence that we've seen. The Palestinians are brawling awfully. We have simply been witnesses to one of the bloodiest coups in recent history, trying to oust a political faction which still has power - the President is from Fatah, so co-operation and compromise are necessary. Palestinians have killed each other in the streets, even whilst they were being bombed by the Israelis. Can we entrust to them the running of their own state? Unlikely. Can we trust them to keep peace in the Middle east? Certainly not.

Alan Johnston

Today marks 100 days since the BBC journalist was taken in Gaza. he's a great man, as you will all have heard! I'd exort you to petition with God and the PM et al to secure his release. Interestingly, though, Hamas have made a good political move from this. They have asserted what new authority they have over Palestine to attempt to secure his release. Today they have even promised that they will consider it their responsability if no progress is made. That's more than anyone else has done. It's most laudable. This is quite probably why hamas have made the move. Nonetheless, it does make them more than mere terrorists. If they begin to act as a responsible government, I think - given their democratic mandate - it might just be right to accept them.

Alan Johnston banner


Gavin said...

With all due respect, Phil, I think the last thing anyone wants is the establishment and recognition of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Gaza (Hamastan, if you will), whose principle aim is the extermination of Israel, no matter how "democratically elected" they are. The Nazis were democratically elected. Do bear in mind that Hamas gunmen have been dragging Fatah officials out into the street and shooting them. I don't agree with you that the rule of the mob constitutes legitimacy on a government. Furthermore, the Hamas uprising is probably going to set the Arab-Israeli peace process back years. So long as Hamas are in power, the less likely that the plight of innocent Palestinian civilians will improve. For any progress, it is necessary that Israel and the Palestinians engage in dialogue in order to come to a deal. Israel will not talk with the Palestinians while they are launching rockets at Israeli towns, or while the Palestinian government does not recognise the right of Israel to exist. In order to overcome these barriers to negotiations and put the ball back in Israel's court it is necessary for a moderate, respectable Palestinian government to take control. When concessions come from the Palestinians, world pressure will then turn onto Israel to make it improve its record on Palestinian human rights, and then maybe something can be done about the fact that thousands of people are still living in refugee camps that were set up in 1948.

Phil' said...

You may have forgotten, Gavin, but we did in fact recognise the Nazi mandate. We bombed them later, but for more than 6 years, we worked with the Nazi Reich. Do bear in mind also that Fatah militants have shot Hamas officials. Those they could find, anyway.

My point is this: imagine the same situation in the USA. The Democrats hold Congress, the Republicans the White House. Democrats and Republicans are fighting in the streets. Would it be right for President Bush to use emergency powers and dissolve Congress? It has a mandate to rule. Furthermore, is it right for us to refuse to accept the will of the American electorate? Let us assume for the moment that democracy is generally a good thing, as most people would agree.

Gavin said...

A democratic mandate is not enough for a state to be recognised. The Chinese government has a "democratic" mandate, but only the Communist Party is allowed. In anticipation of your reply, I expect you will argue that this is not a true democratic mandate. So now you are going to judge systems? Perhaps the UK government does not have a democratic mandate? The power to appoint and dismiss ministers is still invested in the Queen, for example (now exercised by PM), and the executive is not directly elected. The government can control Parliament through built-in majorities. The composition of Parliament bares little resemblance to the national vote. The PM's power of patronage anf influence is massive. Is the UK a democracy? The answer has to be "to an extent", with qualifying pluses and minuses. Which systems are suitable for producing "democratic" governments? Single Member Plurality System? Single Transferable Vote System? Additional Member System? Pluralist democracy? Open party lists? Closed party lists? Single Transferable Vote? We can't discriminate between different systems based on how democratic they are, as they all have pluses and minuses. So we must accept Chinese, Russian and Iranian democracy as well, even though none of these states are at all democratic in the sense that we understand it. My argument is that the manner in which a government is put into place is not a suitable criterium for deciding its suitability for recognition, as the definition of "democracy" is both broad and vague. We can only judge governments based on their actions. Do they uphold the rule of law? If so, which law? Is it fair to all men? Are there basic God-given human rights? (Life, liberty, property, safety etc). Once again we are judging others by our own standards, but at least the morality of a government is, for deontological absolutists, a more concrete matter than its level of democracy, which is always disputable. We should not recognise Hamas because of its actions, and solely because of its actions.

Phil' said...

The point you fail to address, Gavin, is that I do not dispute your comments about China, Iran, Russia, &c. But we recognise those states. Hamas was elected much more democratically, in supervised but decisive elections. So in temrs of democracy, they're doing very well indeed.

As you say, however, is democracy enough? I think there must be a degree of pragmatism in foreign politics. China has an atrocious human rights record. Russia is becoming massively authoritarian again. China calls for the annihilation of Taiwan. Is that enough to sever recognition? No, because it would make the Security Council very difficult indeed. Put simply, if we don't recognise the Palestinian authority, we get the humanitarian crisis that we've seen. that can only breed fundamentalism, and thus be counter-productive. Hamas will have to attend to the peace process. But UN resolutions and standard procedures are the best technique for that, not summary punishment without giving them a chance.


Gavin said...

However, Hamas has staged an uprising and overthrown the governing structures in Gaza (which included both Hamas and Fatah politicians). Surely this disregard for the rule of law cannot be accepted? Perhaps we should never have recognised the Russian revolutionary government in the first place, as it took power by violence. However, if we rejected all revolutionary states, that would include France and America as well! It's a tough one.