Opinion: Political Hangover

Mike Tobin
Our cab driver was on a tirade last night. “The Palestinian people wanted to give Fatah a clap on the face, and now look what they’ve done,” he ranted. “They wanted to punish the old leadership, and who will get punished? We will.” The general consensus I get here in Gaza City is that everyone was surprised by the overwhelming Hamas victory, including Hamas. The vote was all heart and no logic. Now after days drunk on their own emotions — casting ballots, waving flags, and firing their guns in the air — Palestinians are waking up with a wicked political hangover, realizing who they are in bed with and thinking, “Wow, did we really do that?”

All anyone knows about Hamas is they are not Fatah. They make the best rockets and can deliver a bus bomb with more killing power than the rest of the armed factions. Hamas, being opposition, has had the luxury of never charting a course. One respected aid in the Palestinian government told me last night, “They have been all things to all people.” They would be better at providing jobs, better at controlling the streets, more true to Islam and stronger against the Israelis.

Today all the Hamas leaders say they will never amend their group’s charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel, and never recognize Israel. But some of them, like Mahmoud Zahar (the successor of Abdel Aziz Rantissi), make statements saying there would be room for agreements, if it served the best interest of the Palestinians.

One modern Palestinian gal I know who lives in Ramallah told me, “If this means I have to start wearing a headscarf, I’m moving.”

Miriam Farahat is a famous mother of 10 in Gaza. Three of her sons were killed in the conflict with Israel. She was a political pawn, placed far down on the Hamas candidate list with the intention that she would attract votes. No one expected her to actually win a seat in parliament. Now she is a MP elect. Quite publicly, she stated Hamas was going to pass a law that all women must wear the Islamic headscarf. She had not floated that idea before the big shots in the party and was quickly told to mind her tongue, but not before a crowd of men and women were lining up behind her idea of a mandatory hajab law.

It seems Hamas members are a bit fearful of their own ability to run the show and the idea of appointing technocrats to come in and actually run government while the Parliament members wear their robes, puff their chests and cast the votes they are told to cast has been floated.

The attitude of the leaders seems to have changed. I have always found Mahmoud Zahar to be friendly, accommodating and always willing to give an English sound bite. When I interviewed him two nights ago he was impatient. He scolded me when my cameraman was not ready the moment he showed up to talk. When he didn’t like the tone of my questions, he stormed off in a huff.

Ismayel Haniya, filled his home with subordinates and media today to give a news conference. We had been promised a one-on-one interview following the conference. When it was all over, he told us he was busy and we should come back at 5:00.

The irony is, this election seems to make the decision making easy for Israel. Ariel Sharon’s legacy of unilateralism is stronger than ever. The world community is never going to pressure Ehud Olmert to negotiate with a government sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state. The Israeli public is in favor of a pullout from the West Bank, similar to the pullout from the Gaza Strip. So, Israel can just withdraw to “defensible borders,” which pretty much means the separation barrier. They can carve up the West Bank as they see fit until there is something on paper that looks like it could be a state and ram it down the Palestinian’s throat.

The Fatah gunmen seem to have woken up with a case of sobriety. They have spent days shooting in the air and demanding the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas. Yesterday, I had a chance to chat with a high-ranking Fatah gunman. He said they realize now, it’s better to have a party member in the presidency than to make another big emotional move and force him out.

Mike Tobin is a foreign correspondent for FOX News Channel based in Jerusalem.

Michael Tobin joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Chicago-based correspondent.