Columnist: Election Results a 'Conundrum'

Renee Montagne talks to Hirsh Goodman, columnist with The Jerusalem Report and senior fellow at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, about the Palestinian parliamentary elections. He calls Hamas' apparent victory a "very interesting conundrum" for Israel and Hamas.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Hirsch Goodman is a columnist with the Jerusalem Report and senior fellow at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. Good morning.

Mr. HIRSCH GOODMAN (Columnist, "Jerusalem Report," and Senior Fellow, Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv): Good morning to you.

MONTAGNE: A victory by Hamas. How big of a deal is that and what kind of news is that for Israel?

Mr. GOODMAN: Well, it's a very interesting conundrum for Israel and I think it's a very interesting conundrum for Hamas. Israel, obviously, can either say okay, it's not our business. We are at Gaza. We're putting up security barriers, we're into unilateralism, what ever happens on that side happens on that side. Or Israel can try and find a way of getting to Hamas to publicly moderate its policies and have a serious negotiating partner. And this is a real challenge for the policy makers. But I think it could also be a good opportunity.

MONTAGNE: And Hamas, tell us more about that.

Mr. GOODMAN: well, I'm saying it's a challenge for Hamas because if they do indeed want to exercise its democratic rights, they're going to have to modify their policies and statements in order to keep on getting the international aid that the Palestinians are getting.

The Europeans are not going to support an organization that calls for the destruction of another country, so they're going to have to delete that from their platform. And I think this is very much an outcome of a Palestinian election where I think much of Hamas's popularity is just as attributable to an anti-corruption feeling among those voting as to any, you know, sort of political statement.

MONTAGNE: But to be anti-corruption, let me talk about other news -- not good news for the Palestinians Authority.

Mr. GOODMAN: No, this is not good news for the Palestinian Authority. And indicative of the fact that Abu Mazen, when he succeeded Arafat, was unable to create cadre of leadership that offered the people hope. It was more of the same. And the same people who surrounded Arafat, the same people that had the same concessions, the money did not trickle down, the peace benefits did not trickle down and it was very unpopular. And therefore, people voted with their feet and it does represent an opportunity.

MONTAGNE: Well, that opportunity; let's get to that. From the Israeli point of view, what do you think the Israeli government's likely response will be?

Mr. GOODMAN: I think the Israeli government's response will be is that we've got a very deep respect to democracy. But just like we've banned Kahane's party from running in our election because it was a terrorist organization, so Hamas has to metamorphize from a terrorist organization, or an organization that supports terror, into one that is a purely political organization. And it's happened in the past. Elements of our own government in 1948 were terrorist organizations, like the Irgun, and then they folded into the democratic process. It happens all the time. And that I think that will be our hope.

MONTAGNE: And Hamas has largely respected a ceasefire for nearly a year. Can you see a circumstance in which they would indeed would become a partner in the process?

Mr. GOODMAN: Let's say that they wanted to become a central partner in rebuilding Palestine. These are smart people, they've got a program, they're not a--they're very pragmatic people, and I think they want the welfare of their constituents. And welfare means some form of stability; otherwise you're not going to get foreign investment.

So, I think we may have a pragmatic partner, maybe not to make peace with, but at least to try to negotiate some post-conflict interregnum until the peace process starts again.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. GOODMAN: My pleasure. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Hirsh Goodman is a columnist with the Jerusalem Report, and he's also a senior fellow at the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

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