Palestinian elections: Any upside for Israel

Election day in the Palestinian territories has come and gone, and with a million ballots cast, sorting out winners and losers is no simple task.

Early results suggest Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party won a plurality of 40 percent, with Hamas close behind at 30 percent.

How many seats each party claims in the Palestinian Parliament may not be determined for a while. But one thing is clear: Hamas has infiltrated the political arena beyond its terrorist origins.

What does this mean for Israel?

When it comes to Hamas, there is no upside for Jews. Since forming in the 1980s, Hamas has never relented in its mission to destroy Israel. They are the hardest of hardliners, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Jews. Israel has no reason to hope that a political Hamas is a pacified Hamas.

On the other hand, a look back at history is in order. There was a time when the idea of Israel negotiating with Yasser Arafat was unthinkable. He and his PLO had so much Jewish blood on their hands, it seemed it could never be washed off.

Yet there he stood on that fine September day with Prime Minister Rabin and President Clinton on the White House lawn.

The fact that Arafat turned out to be a tyrant is beside the point. Progress in the peace process came anyway, despite Arafat’s treachery. Even if he was insincere, Arafat officially recognized Israel and renounced terrorism, and that triggered the law of unintended consequences.

Does this mean Hamas might renounce terrorism? It seems unimaginable at present. As an Islamic party, Hamas stands in contrast to Arafat’s secular nationalism. Muslim jihadists around the world are more likely to lend aid and comfort to a militantly Islamic Hamas than a timid Palestinian Authority.

Yet if Hamas does not change, as did the PLO, then its leaders only consign their own people to more suffering as the conflict goes on. So perhaps they can change, too.

Ultimately, if we truly believe in democratic ideals, Israel and her supporters must respect the outcome of the vote and find a way to deal with it. As former New York governor Al Smith said more than 75 years ago, “There is nothing wrong with democracy that more democracy can’t cure.” If it’s good enough for us, it’s good enough for the Palestinians.

No, we do not trust Hamas. Neither does Israel — and we can be sure Israeli leaders will pay attention to the blinking red warning lights the Palestinian election has triggered.

But let us wait and see. Perhaps the law of unintended consequences will work in our favor this time.