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On the Record

Hamas Victory

JOHN GIBSON, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I am John Gibson and this is THE BIG STORY. It was an unexpected news conference today at the White House. President Bush talked about his upcoming State of the Union address, Iran, wiretaps, and Hurricane Katrina.

ut the big issue, the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections and it’s possible impact on Middle East peace. Tonight, Israel announced it would not deal with a Palestinian government that includes members of Hamas.

GIBSON: Joining us now to talk about the Hamas victory and the challenges it creates for the American White House, Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. So Michael, if—ow, the president on one hand says, well democracy is democracy, but we’re not dealing with a terror organization, what happens next?

MICHAEL O’HANLON, SR. FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, John, first of all I think the president is obviously making the right call because we don’t just support democracy in the sense of a tyranny of the majority. It’s constitutional democracy with rights for minorities and individuals and non-violence. And that’s the longer sentence. You can’t just wrap it up into one bumper sticker. But that’s still what we support.

Clearly President Bush is right, we cannot give Hamas diplomatic recognition or aid. Hamas is going to lose a lot of money, it’s going to be even harder to govern that space, that Palestinian space. I think they may wind up doing a very bad job of it. Of course, that has to be our main hope right now.

GIBSON: Michael, is it, you know, Fatah—rty they’re replacing isn’t exactly—t exactly have clean hands either. What is it you’re saying, if you won’t deal with Hamas but you deal with its predecessor?

O’HANLON: Well Fatah, you’re right, was not able to crack down on the various militias, some of them even within its own umbrella. But for the most part, its major leaders had accepted Israel and were committed to a Democratic process.

That’s not true of Hamas. So there’s a radical difference here. And of course the hope has to be that Fatah will concentrate its power in one person so that if it gets into power again, they can be more decisive in cracking down on the militias.

And maybe this period in the political wilderness can give Fatah that opportunity to consolidate its strength and be ready to rule next time, because they have to take this as a big wakeup call as the president said. But, you know, Hamas is unlikely to deliver. And they are certainly the worst of the two options.

GIBSON: There’s been a lot of discussion about Iran’s participation in this. Is this Hamas an arm of Iran?

O’HANLON: I don’t think so, John. I think that Hamas basically won the election because of what they do for the Palestinian people. Where in some tension with what I just said, it has to be acknowledged, they are pretty good as a non-governmental organization delivering services.

I’m not sure they can generalize that now to rule an entire territory and an entire population, but I think they won partly because the incumbent was doing so badly, partly because they were doing pretty well at providing social services, welfare benefits and so forth, to individual Palestinians.

I don’t think that Iran’s influence was all that important. And Hamas has been committed itself to the destruction of Israel without any Iranian influence necessary to lead it to that objective.

GIBSON: Michael, is this, though, sort of where we’re going? We want democracy in the Middle East and in many cases, it may elect parties we don’t like?

O’HANLON: I think that’s right. And that’s why, even though it’s a longer sound byte, I would suggest that the president change his overall platform, not just towards democracy, but constitutional democracy, constitutional peaceful democracy. There can’t be a tyranny of the majority, because that can set back not only our own interests but those of the very Muslim populations we’re talking about.

GIBSON: Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution — Michael, thanks very much.

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