Friday, December 01, 2006

Terrorists As Political Factions

The recent election of the Palestinian Legislative Council which has a plurality of Hamas candidates, coupled with today's unrest in Lebanon, raises an ugly prospect: The United States will have to deal with both Hamas and potentially Hizbollah as political, and not just as terrorist, entities.

Let's get up to speed on what's happening in Lebanon:
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of flag-waving Lebanese poured into central Beirut on Friday for a Hezbollah-led protest aimed at bringing down the Western-backed government, which has vowed it will not yield to the pressure.

Pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its allies have called on Lebanese from across the country to take part in the opposition protest. It is due to start at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT) and will be followed by an indefinite sit-in near the government offices.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, has branded the government a U.S. puppet.
Syria occupied Lebanon until 2005, and recent election results indicate a strong anti-Syria movement in Lebanon.

Hizbollah, as the article mentions, is backed by Syria. Hizbollah is also a minority partner in the ruling coalition in Parliament, controlling some 27% of the seats (along with the Resistance and Development Bloc), and as seems apparent from today's demonstration, can turn out throngs for support. Too, Hizbollah demonstrations have usually been followed by anti-Syria demonstrations of equal of greater masses, but there's a wrinkle here: the recent Israeli bombing campaign in southern Lebanon, which may have pushed many people into Hizbollah's camp, particularly as Hizbollah have been seen to be the main force in rebuilding the devastated regions.

Clearly, Israel is in a bit of a pickle: Hamas on one side, Hizbollah on the other, both gaining political legitimacy.

When you give an angry group a little bit of money, it goes and buys weapons. When you give an angry group a lot of money, it goes and buys power. This, I think, is what has happened here.

The region has a history of terrorist-like groups obtaining power, most notably in Israel itself: the Haganah, a paramilitary organization that operated in then-British controlled Palestine. Formed to defend Israeli settlers in predominanatly Arabic Palestine (when it appeared the British didn't want to get involved), after the Hebron massacre and subsequent exile of Jews from that city, armed itself heavily, and joined with the British during the Arab revolt in the late 30s.

By the end of World War II, however, the Haganah turned against Britain, and started bobming train stations, police stations, and radar towers. It also spun off the Irgun, which was a radical splinter faction of Haganah, and created even more terrorist-like activity.

After Israel received its independence, however, the Haganah was instantaneously turned into the Israeli Defense Forces, and became part of a legitimate government. In fact, most of the names of early Israel history come out of Haganah: Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Moshe Dayan, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer (huh?).

So there is precedent for this type of transformation, and the United States should be actively encourage the participation in the democratic process of these groups, and not trying to marginalize them or worse, try to prevent them from obtaining power legitimately.

It's going to be a tough sell to the American people and to the Israelis, but I believe that our commitment to democracy demands that we take this position: we cannot impose half a democracy and walk away, just because the alternative outcome, a government that is hostile to our interests, is a likely outcome.

Our own nation was founded by a group of subservives who, for their time, were considered terrorists: they didn't fight by conventional rules, they struck and terrorised towns by dumping tea dressed in frightening costumes, they employed mercenaries, and fought on holidays!

We turned out to be pretty OK, all things said. This may be a situation where we have to grin and bear it, because a free people is free to do precisely what it wants, including what we DON'T want it to do.