WESTERN reactions to the outcome of the Palestinian election last week came in two varieties: highly negative and decidedly undecided.
In the first category was Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who moaned that the Hamas defeat of Fatah was a "very, very, very bad result." In New York, the Anti-Defamation League pronounced the results "a tremendous setback."
Others insisted that the significance of the election couldn't be known until Hamas decides whether or not to abandon its foremost objective: the liquidation of Israel. In the words of FBI Director Robert Mueller, "Hamas has a choice to make." It was a line echoed everywhere, from the British Foreign Office to the New York Times editorial page.
Well, put me in a third camp: I think the sweeping Hamas victory is by far the best result that could have been hoped for.
I say that not because Hamas is anything other than a blood-drenched terrorist group, but because its lopsided win is an unambiguous reality check into the nature of Palestinian society. And if there is one thing that the West badly needs, it is more realism and less delusion about the Palestinians.
Some of that delusion was on display at the White House on Thursday, when President Bush painted the Palestinian election as a "healthy" exercise in civic reform:
"Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo," Bush explained. "The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find healthcare. And so the elections should open the eyes of the old guard there in the Palestinian territories. . . . There's something healthy about a system that does that."
Spare us, Mr. President. If a slate of neo-Nazi skinheads swept to power in a European election, would you say that the voters were seeking "honest government" and "services"? Palestinians are not stupid, and it insults their intelligence to pretend that when they vote to empower a genocidal organization with a platform straight out of "Mein Kampf," what they're really after is better healthcare. Islamist extremism isn't needed to fix Palestinian hospitals any more than fascism was needed to make Italian trains run on time in the 1920s. If Palestinians turned out en masse to elect a party that unapologetically stands for hatred and mass murder, it's a safe bet that hatred and mass murder had something to do with the turnout.
By the same token, Hamas's new duties are not going to turn it into a moderate group of diligent civil servants. When violent Islamists win political power, their brutality and zealotry do not diminish. (See Khomeini, Ayatollah and Taliban, Afghan). The notion that Hamas now has "a choice to make" is just another example of the delusional thinking that is so pervasive when it comes to the Palestinian Authority.
In his remarks on Thursday, Bush went on to say that he didn't "see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform" or "if your party has got an armed wing" and that Hamas is therefore "a party with which we will not deal." If that means that the Bush administration will shun the new Hamas government as it once shunned Yasser Arafat, well and good. But why was Mahmoud Abbas treated any differently? Like Hamas, Fatah -- the PLO faction Abbas and Arafat co-founded 45 years ago -- advocates Israel's destruction in its basic charter. Like Hamas, Fatah has an "armed wing" -- the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- that is guilty of horrific terror attacks. Fatah's emblem shows crossed rifles against a map of "Palestine" that depicts all of Israel; on the Hamas emblem, the map is the same, but the crossed weapons are swords. The only important difference between the ousted Fatah party and the incoming Hamas leadership is that for PR purposes the former sometimes pretended to accept Israel's right to exist, while the latter is openly and unabashedly committed to Israel's elimination.
Yet that is why the Hamas landslide is good news. It will now be much harder to wish away the unpleasant fact that after a dozen years of PLO misrule, Palestinian society is deeply dysfunctional, steeped in hatred and violence. All but the willfully blind can now see that the Palestinian Authority is no "partner in peace." Until it is decisively defeated and thoroughly detoxified, the Palestinian people will never enjoy the blessings of liberty and decent governance. Ironically, the ascendancy of Hamas may have brought that day a little closer.