UF experts: Hamas victory may actually do some good


Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 8:58 p.m.
An Israeli-born professor at the University of Florida said an Islamic militant group's landslide victory in the Palestinian elections might actually help the peace process.
"Once you are in power, you see things different than when you were in the opposition," said Ido Oren, an associate professor of political science.
Hamas scored an overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections Wednesday as voters rejected the longtime rule of the Fatah Party. Israeli politicians and President Bush have questioned whether a group responsible for suicide bombings can be a partner for peace.
But Oren said being in power might moderate Hamas, which has called for the destruction of Israel. Even if it doesn't, he said, Israel has been unilaterally withdrawing from Palestinian territories and could continue to do so regardless of who is in power there.
Hamas will now have a vested interest in continuing the peace process, said Patricia Woods, an assistant professor of political science and Jewish studies at UF. It will face the same fate as Fatah, she said, unless it produces tangible results in gaining territory and other benefits for Palestinians.
"Hamas is going to have to change its spots on some really critical issues," she said.
She viewed the election of a protest vote against the corrupt rule of Fatah. While the party failed to improve the lives of Palestinians, she said, Hamas was working to help Palestinians.
"Hamas has really been doing grassroots work for the last 20 years," she said.
Annie Higgins has observed the lives of Palestinians firsthand as a volunteer in the territories from 2002 to 2003. The visiting assistant professor in Arabic languages and literature at UF said she's amazed elections can even take place there, given impediments to moving freely.
The fact there was such high turnout - nearly 80 percent - shows the election was positive in terms of providing average people a voice in the political process, she said.
"It gives people hope," she said. But she said she didn't expect the results would have a visible impact on their lives in the immediate future.
The election could also mean other problems in the near future, said Dennis Jett, director of UF's International Center.
"In the short term, I'm not optimistic," said Jett, who worked 28 years in the State Department including nearly three years in Israel.
The bulk of the Palestinian and Israeli people want peace, he said, but extremists are determined to disrupt that process. Still, he said, he expects pragmatism to eventually take hold as Israel continues to withdraw from the territories.
"You can't occupy that land forever," he said.
Woods said she believes the Palestinian people disagree with Hamas on major issues, such as their desire for freedom as opposed to having an Islamic state. And the group will be forced to accept Israel as a negotiating partner, she said, if it wants to give people the movement and economic benefits they desire.
"They're going to have to change or they're going to be out of power pretty quickly," she said.
Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 338-3176 or crabben@ gvillesun.com.

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