Voting today in the Palestinian Authority pits Fatah against Hamas. This face-off can be read as the corrupt, old-line Palestinian powerbroker versus the disciplined upstart, or as Yasir Arafat's ideologically flexible organization versus Ahmed Yassin's Islamist vehicle.
On the key question of their attitude toward Israel, Fatah is willing to negotiate with Israel to gain territory and other benefits, while Hamas on principle refuses to deal with the "Zionist entity." But the difference is between them is mostly illusory, as Fatah in fact engages in terrorism and Hamas does talk to the Israelis.
For reasons that somewhat escape my understanding, on this basis, Fatah is dubbed moderate and Hamas extremist; or, in the even more dramatic terms of an Associated Press headline today, "Palestinians choose between pursuing peace or confrontation with Israel." In fact, the differences between them are merely tactical; a more accurate headline would be "Palestinians choose between pursuing more overt or more covert destruction of Israel." Basically, Hamas speaks its mind and Fatah dares not. And Hamas provides the social services that Fatah cannot because its honchos have stolen the funds.
Ironically, this means that there is some reason to prefer Hamas to Fatah, for it prompts a more negative response from Israelis, Europeans, Americans, and others. But the New York Sun has already made this point for me a couple of days ago, in a house editorial titled "Recipe for Trouble":
a victory by Hamas, evil though the organization is, might not be all bad. At least then it would be clear to everyone what Israel is facing, an enemy committed to its complete destruction. … With Hamas in power, the Palestinian Authority could be seen, even by the American state department, for what it is, a terrorist state with the aim of destroying a free and democratic American ally. It would join the ranks of Iran and Syria as a rogue state that America would seek to isolate and roll back rather than subsidize with taxpayer dollars.
So, while I do not wish Hamas well in any manner at all (an article of mine appearing today in USA Today calls for it to be destroyed), there will likely be some benefit in having it complicit in the Palestinian Authority. (January 25, 2006)