On Thursday I return to Israel, after spending Wednesday in Minnesota. (Astronomy folks: we should do dinner somewhere Wednesday evening!) So I should begin catching up on what I've missed.
The most interesting development I'm aware of is the Palestinian municipal elections held last Thursday. Hamas did quite well, as expected, although Fatah remains firmly in political control of the territories. It would be a grave error, though, to interpret this as the Palestinian people voting in favor of the destruction of Israel. Instead, as Ha'aretz writes,
In a sign of the militants' strength even in areas with large Christian populations, Hamas won five of the seven seats alloted to Muslims in the town of Bethlehem, which has a total of 15 seats. Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine will share the eight seats allocated to Christians.
"We are very honest and work much more than the others," said Khaled Saada, a Hamas candidate for Bethlehem town council, citing schools, clinics and orphanages run by his group.
Many voters were prepared to try Hamas after what they saw as a Fatah failure.
"Who will work for our future, for our children?" asked Maalik Salhab, a 24-year-old biology student who was wearing a green Hamas hat in Bethlehem and voted for the group on Thursday.
"If I see the outside world refusing to help us and then call Hamas terrorists, then I have the right to choose Hamas because they are doing all these things for me."
It's about local services, honest government, and frustration with the incumbent political establishment.
Israel is, of course, not pleased with this outcome. Said the Defence Minister before the elections,
Predicting that Hamas would win a majority in the Palestinian parliament in the upcoming elections, Shalom said that: "It seems to me unreasonable to move forward with the implementation of the disengagement plan as if nothing had happened and hand over the territories only for Hamas to create there a 'Hamastan'."
"Hamas' pledge to destroy Israel is not a thing to be taken lightly. The territory must be handed over only to the PA under Fatah rule," the foreign minister added.
In response, the PA Minister of Civil Affairs is quoted, labelling these sentiments "a rude intervention in Palestinian internal affairs; his statement is of no interest to Palestinians since the disengagement is a unilateral move in any case." When I left Israel the papers were full of talk of Israel and the PA biting the bullet and coordinating the disengagement, making it a bilateral process. Things would appear to have gone downhill on that front.
Hamas' success on the municipal front is of little concern to Israel prima facie, as it isn't local councils that reign in or encourage terrorism, nor town mayors that set Palestinian policy towards Israel. However, Palestinian parliamentary elections are scheduled for July 17, and in that light the current results presage trends that do not favor an easy peace.