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A Step Forward Or Backward?

A Step Forward Or Backward?Days after Hamas defeated the ruling Fatah party in the Palestinian parliamentary election, WBUR captured students’ reactions at Tufts’ Fletcher School.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.08.06] Hamas’s victory over the Fatah party in the recent Palestinian parliamentary election has some members of the international community speculating about the future of the Middle East peace process. But, despite the party’s history of being an Islamic militant group, some students at the Fletcher school believe that the shift in power may be a positive step toward democracy in Palestine.

“There’s a democratic vote, a free and fair election that took place in the Arab world,” Joshua Gleis, a doctoral student at Fletcher who is both an American and Israeli citizen, told WBUR as part of a segment that aired on Jan. 27. “That’s a real start.”

That Palestinians supported the free election is not surprising, according to Rashid Khalidi, director of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute, who delivered the keynote address at the “Democratizing the Middle East?” conference held at the Fletcher School in January and sponsored The Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies. He explained to WBUR how Hamas may have been influenced by Israel in this area.

“Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails voted against a large number of Hamas leaders outside of Palestine in favor of elections,” Khalidi told the news station. “Now this is not to say that they became Democrats because they have been in Israeli prison, but it is to say that they’ve learned Hebrew and they’ve watched the Israeli political system, like many Palestinians do, and so there’s a process of osmosis.”

While Hamas may have won the election, one Fletcher student warned that the group now has to accept the responsibility of leading the nation.

“Hamas is aware that its greatest asset was being in opposition throughout the years,” said Matan Chorev, who is from Israel and working toward his master’s degree at Fletcher. “Now when it could be in position of responsibility, it will face challenges that Fatah has faced, as well, [like] negotiating with Israel [and] the security environment - things that are not easily securable. Therefore it might not be in their interest to take on these roles of responsibility, which will expose its weaknesses.”

Fletcher student Ali Omar, a native Palestinian, agrees and hopes that Hamas, which has agreed to share power with Fatah chief and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, doesn’t shirk its duty to preserve democracy in Palestine.

“I never imagined that [this would] happen one day,” Omar, a captain in the Palestinian security forces and member of the Fatah movement who is pursuing a master’s in security studies, told WBUR. “Now [Hamas] has to choose democracy or not. It cannot stop in the middle and say, this time, we’ll choose it … and next time we won’t.”



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