Monday, January 30, 2006

Two Essay's on Palestine

The following two essays are written responses to the recent election in Palestine. This first is by myself and the second by my good friend Tom. Instead of having one of us write the initial essay and the other responding we decieded to each write our own essay without consulting the other person and then post them together. Anyhow enjoy, I know we both put alot of thought and effort into their creation.

The Failure of Democracy:

As a testament to the tumultuous nature and unpredictability of International Politics; Palestinians, last week, elected a Hamas majority to head their new government. The question the international community is now wrestling with is what does one do with a democratically elected terrorist organization in perhaps the world’s most volatile region?

Hamas, perhaps the most powerful Palestinian terrorist organization, first arrived on the scene in the early 1990’s as a reaction to the Oslo Accords and played a heavy role in the first Intifada. Based in Gaza, the organization has two divisions of operation: a social welfare program responsible for building several schools, hospitals, and providing essentials to the poor. The second arm of Hamas, and more infamous, is the militant wing, also known as the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which has sponsored hundreds of suicide bombings and other attacks on Israel. Further, Hamas has failed to recognize the sovereignty of Israel and even now sticks by their call for its destruction.

What makes the Hamas victory particularly disheartening is that this year has laid witness to several strides of moderation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. With the election of moderate Mahmoud Abbas as President of the Palestinian Authority coupled with an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a potential upcoming victory of the new Israeli party Kadima, which seeks a two state solution while emphasizing a tough security strategy, hope for the Middle East seemed tangible and in the near future.

But now with Mr. Sharon out-of-commission and with the potential for a militant led Palestinian state becoming a real possibility—does any hope remain?

First: The United States, European Union, and Israel have all stated that they cannot and will not appropriate funds to a government that (1) does not recognize Israel and (2) seeks its destruction. Secondly: we have yet to see what government and cabinet Hamas will create. The two most pertinent questions are; will they seek to form a coalition government with Fatah and will they denounce their militant past and moderate?

It is my hope that Hamas will indeed seek to form a coalition with Fatah. To be pragmatic, an alliance amongst the PLO, Hamas, and Fatah could prove to be a powerful force, with Hamas leading a social reconstruction program and Fatah leading the diplomatic effort. Next I pray Hamas elect’s as Prime Minister, a non-Hamas candidate with strong leadership credentials and a more mainline approach towards Israel.

If instead Hamas fails to moderate, Fatah then should not join a coalition government and take up the position as an opposition party. Further, Israel, the United States, and the EU should stop all negotiations with Hamas and take a serious look at funding cuts to the Palestinian Authority.

The failure of democracy: No. One cannot be an advocate of democracy contingent only upon the results of the elections. The process in Palestine is to be celebrated. However, actions have consequences and pressure must be applied to a rogue state inconsistent with those values celebrated the world over. Isolating a rogue but legitimate Hamas will render it effectively useless; unable to push forward its agenda and meet the domestic needs of the Palestinian people, thus in the long-run may they see the error and consequence of voting for an extremist government. Yes, this will render the peace process ineffective for some time. Though, at times it is necessary for a party to have time pursing a more radical line of action to see that a more moderated response will yield more effective results.

The days ahead will require much discernment and wisdom on the part of not only Israel and Palestine but International leaders the world over. -Bryan-

Failed Democracy? Not yet.

The recent elections in Palestine worry me. Not because of voter fraud or a lack of small –“d” democratic influence; Jimmy Carter and Senator Biden were on hand to ensure a fair and free election: "I have just returned from observing yesterday’s Palestinian legislative elections. The process was free and fair. But the apparent results – a victory by the terrorist organization Hamas – are very sobering.” (Sen. Biden) Rather, I share Senator Biden’s concern about what the ramifications of the elections could turn out to be.

Democracy internationale

The problem (for those of us with opinions) with democracy is that the results are not pre-determined (my side doesn’t always win). Prior to the adoption of the US Constitution the Federalists fought the Anti-federalists over the future of our nation. They had to argue because the adoption of the Constitution was not a done-deal; a super-majority of the states would have to agree to the terms. Similarly, the Canadians took a right turn earlier this week when they ousted a Liberal government and replaced Paul Martin with Stephen Harper, a Conservative. For the first time in 12 years, Conservatives will lead the Canadian government.

The Bush administration has been rightly touting international democracy since gaining power in 2001. Democracies are less likely to wage war with fellow democracies (though the Palestinian case-study could break the mold), so it would make sense that spreading democracy throughout the world would make the world a more peaceful place to live. And who is against peace? Not a democracy.

Until now.

The Palestinian case-study

Until the recent elections, Hamas had never had official representation in the Palestinian parliament; that wasn’t their “thing.” Now, however, they not only have seats at the table, but they will make up a pure majority of the Parliament, having won 76 out of 132 seats. The Palestinian government will be purely Hamas-led, especially as Fatah members have chosen to not attempt a coalition government. Fatah gunmen even stormed Palestinian parliament buildings on Saturday in protest to the election results.

Many people argue that the recent elections are what democracy is all about and say they are a good thing to be supported. Hamas is, indeed, popular among many Palestinians. The Economist recently estimated, however, that the core support of Hamas among the general population should be put nearer to one-quarter of all Palestinians than the majority of seats they earned. Regardless, Palestine—and, indeed, the entire world—must deal with a Hamas-centered government.

A problematic Hamas

If international democracy is to be heralded, why does this election sober politicians? Indeed, Iraq and Afghanistan held (truly free) democratic elections for the first time in a while, but it is not democracy, rather the victory of Hamas, that makes this election different.

Hamas is labeled by Europe and the United States as a terrorist organization, so a Hamas-led government could be problematic (governments usually reject terrorism). Two tenets on which Hamas stands are a non-recognition of Israel and the imposition of Islamic law. While the second might be acceptable under democratic principles—a people may choose the laws under which they live—the first, however, should give much of the world pause.

If Europe and the United States are truly interested in furthering the peace process, how can they support a group whose charter calls on Islam to “obliterate” Israel? They must realize that they cannot. Reports mention that, if Hamas were to denounce the radical portions of their charter, they could be internationally recognized by Europe and the United States. According to Reuters, however, Hamas leaders rejected as “blackmail” Western demands that it renounce violence against Israel. It is not democracy, but Hamas that could fail this election.

What to do

I won’t claim to be a scholar of international politics—I am even less an expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict. This election, however, worries me. It sobers Senator Biden, but it worries me. Was it a failure of democracy? Maybe. However, I won’t jump to that conclusion so quickly. Perhaps a Hamas-led Palestine will be unsustainable for domestic reasons (the parliament faces a very tight budget, and Hamas has little experience governing); perhaps it won’t. This, however, belongs on the back-burner compared to the international consequences. Domestic issues may have won Hamas the election, but they will not constitute the Hamas legacy.

America, Europe, and, indeed, the rest of the world is currently pondering whether or not they should recognize (and support) a Hamas-led Palestine. At this point, they should not.

The Middle East peace process (beyond Israel-Palestine) is too fragile and valuable to throw out over this election; the consequences are too severe. Note that Hamas isn’t simply rejecting the peace process with Israel, rather at this point it is rejecting the existence of Israel. The peace process did not just one step back, but it left the stadium. The runner isn’t quitting the race, he is rejecting the notion that the race exists.

Hamas should not be supported until they not only renounce their abhorrence for Israel, but for the peace process as well.

In his article on the topic, James Phillips suggests that Hamas should not be recognized because they do not pass a series of tests. “A truly democratic party must reject violence, intimidation, and terrorism, not only against its own people but also against other nations, even if they are historic enemies.” Hamas does not do this. Additionally, “Political parties must also pass a values test: they must not advocate racial or religious discrimination.” Hamas does not do this.

Whether or not these are (the only) legitimate tests for a democratic government, it should be clear that the United States (and the rest of the world) must not recognize a Hamas-led Palestine until they renounce their abhorrence to Israel’s existence and should not support a Hamas-led Palestine until they throw their weight behind the peace process.

President Clinton supported this view earlier when he noted about Hamas, “I don’t see how they can expect the support of the rest of us” as long as they stay committed to the destruction of Israel. Similarly, the United States and Europe seem to agree as well. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization, and neither America nor the Europeans support a terrorist organization.

While Hamas hasn’t employed terrorist means in the past six months and, certainly, hasn’t used its position in the government to carry out attacks (yet), that does not mean that they should be trusted or supported. If they are truly going to turn from their past of violent means of advancing their agenda, then they should renounce said means. If they are not willing to renounce them, then we are to assume that they still support such violence.

If Hamas chooses to continue supporting these actions I fear the worst.

One chance

This does not mean, however, that Hamas, as some argue, should not be given a chance to govern and renounce its old ways. Until Hamas recognizes the right of Israel to exist their government should not be recognized, and until they support the Middle East peace process they should not be supported.


The Palestinian elections—like any other election—did not take place in a vacuum. Unlike Las Vegas, what happens in Gaza does not stay in Gaza. Rather, it has international consequences.

Flat denial

Last Saturday the AP reported this:

“Following their resounding election victory, the Islamic militants of Hamas met the question of whether they will change their stripes with a loud ‘no’: no recognition of Israel, no negotiations, no renunciation of terror. … [B]ut the consequences of failing to do so are likely to be catastrophic: loss of life-sustaining aid, international isolation and a profound setback to their statehood aspirations.”

Additionally, members of the Fatah party don’t seem to be taking it well either. Many members have denounced their leaders for refusing to join in a coalition (as mentioned above).

It is the catastrophic consequences that worry me: the loss of aid and international isolation, sure, but more the loss of life (at the hand of terrorists and the inevitable military conflict that will result from a Palestine seeking to “obliterate” its neighbor).

A myriad of issues

Just to throw a few things out in the air, I wonder if this election will give traction to a larger conflict. The president of Iran has, over the past few months, called for the wiping of Israel off the face of the earth, has denied the holocaust ever took place, has suggested that Israel be moved to land within Europe or the United States, has asserted his country’s right to possess nuclear weapons, has started diverting Iranian funds from banks in Europe, and has continued to pursue nuclear weapons. France, on the other hand, has shown its rationality by declaring that if it were attacked by a terrorist it would not only consider conventional weapons when it retaliates. With another Islamic state declaring its opposition to the existence of Israel could this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Out on a Limb


No issue within American Politics is able to elicit a more impassioned response or divide the electorate more than abortion. For many it has become the single most decisive issue regulating their voting patterns. In my own experience, particularly when in the company of Christians, when I tell others I hold a liberal political philosophy I am automatically asked how I feel about abortion and how I can reconcile that with my aggregate views.

Firstly, yes I do tend towards a pro-life stance. I place immense value and respect upon human life and it is my hope that this value transcends my entire life not just pocket issues. Yet I am frustrated. Frustrated because abortion has become such a powerful force within our system. A recent article by The Economist, which I believe I sent to many of you, evaluated abortion in the United States and how powerfully it works in favor for the GOP and is in turn so detrimental to the Democratic Party. Detrimental because it is the burden of Democrats to defend abortion and in favor of the GOP because by attacking it they can collect the religious right as a constituency but have to offer no true pragmatic solutions. It was The Economist's view and my own, that abortion will not be made illegal because the vast majority of the electorate wishes to see it in some form or another as a legal option. Thus, huge reserves of human resources and labor are being used to achieve nothing concrete other than a more bipartisan atmosphere.

Now I recognize and respect people's legal right to lobby for those issues deemed important by them. Further, I understand how abortion, since dealing with the lives of children, has become such a poignant issue and causes such distress on both sides. And finally I recognize the bias of this essay and how it may come to be viewed as nothing more than a way to strengthen the Democratic Party. However, my frustration lies not within hopes for the DNC but rather that there is such a multiplicity of issues out that, where resources are not being devoted, yet with a little effort very real and pragmatic solution's are within easy reach. I seek conclusion that is all. Let the people decide.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Union Jack

No, There are no Murders in Africa
Only Regrettable Deaths
And from those Deaths
We Derive the Benefits of Civilization
Benefits we can afford so easily
Because those Lives were bought so cheaply

-The Constant Gardener

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Year in Review according to Bryan:

Top Film: The Constant Gardener
Worst Film: Chicken Little
Best Song: Will Smith, "Switch"
Worst Song: Weezer, "Beverly Hills"
Best New Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Most Honorable Senator: John McCain R-Arizona
Most Nerdy Blogger on High: Brandon I have sexy pants Jones
Moment that caught our attention: New Orleans
What left us hope: Reduction of debt in Africa by the G8
Most Dishonorable Moment: Passage of Intelligent Design Provision by the Kansas School Board
Why We Woke Up in the Morning: After not being seen since 1944 the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was found alive and sexy as ever in Arkansas:in celebration Sufjan sang us a song about it.
Best Source for News: PBS Newshour with Jim Lerher

Bring on 2006 playa's!!!