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Who Lost Gaza?

A great debate has already begun on the subject of who lost Gaza.Increasingly, one hears that the Israelis did, or the Americans did;that the disaster is the consequence of Israeli policies orAmerican policies, of Israeli harshness and American indifference.It is necessary to insist, therefore, that the primaryresponsibility for Palestinian actions falls on Palestinians. Tobelieve the opposite is to hold a condescending imperialist view ofthe Palestinians as the passive objects of others; as nothing butthe wretched playthings of power, of circumstances over which theyhave no control; as people in some way unqualified for history. Ifthe Hamas revolution is anything, however, it is historical action.The Palestinians in Gaza are not only suffering their history; theyare also making it, and ruining it.

Hamas, like Hezbollah, and like Al Qaeda, is a phenomenon with deepsocial, cultural, psychological, and philosophical roots in its ownuniverse. The internal factors are more decisive than the externalfactors. The authority of the Koran preceded, and precedes Israel;just as it preceded, and precedes, America; just as it preceded,and precedes, modernity. The political theology of Hamas is not, asoutraged commentators like to say, an expression of nihilism; it isan expression of a grandiose and particular and radicalworldview--of a belief in certain metaphysical and moralpropositions that cannot be dismissed as simply desperate reactionsto political misfortunes. If Hamas were not so genuinelyindigenous, it would not be so genuinely terrifying. Could Israeland the United States have alleviated some of the hardships thatthe Palestinians have endured in recent years? Certainly. (Setaside, for the moment, the significant question of whether Israeland the United States should have recognized, and engaged with,Hamas.) Could any Israeli and American alleviations have preemptedthe civil war in Palestine and robbed the clerics and the gunmen ofHamas of their prestige in Palestinian society? You must bekidding.

Now return to the question of Hamas and diplomacy. It is an oddquestion, of course, since diplomacy is precisely what Hamasrepudiates. But the more violent Hamas gets, the more one hearsthat it is time for diplomacy. About what, exactly? A Palestinianstate, comes the answer. But the only Palestinian state that Hamaswill discuss, insofar as it discusses, is the one that will eraseIsrael from the map. Is this the proper subject of negotiations?Yes, Hamas was democratically elected in Palestine; but democracyis not all that one needs to know about the legitimacy of agovernment. The legitimacy of a government does not guarantee thelegitimacy of a government's actions. Those missiles that Hamas hasbeen firing into Israel from Gaza are not attacks by a movement,they are attacks by a government.

So this leaves the West Bank, and the "West Bank first" option.Israel and the United States must indeed do whatever they can tostrengthen the hand of Mahmoud Abbas, as a matter of the mostelementary prudence; but we must all be very sober about theimplications of "Hamas-stan" for the prospects for peace. Thoseprospects in the near term are, in a word, null. Nothing should bedone by Israel that would further foreclose the possibility ofpeace, but neither should Israeli policy be premised on theimminence of reconciliation. There is violence all around it. Andthe West Bank is not exactly calm. Hamas flourishes there, too; andso does the secular version of "the armed struggle." The governmentappointed by Abbas--in defiance of democratic procedure, blesshim-- includes many modernizers and liberalizers, most especiallySalam Fayyad, the new prime minister, but they are not theuncontested heroes of their people. They are fighting the goodfight, and they deserve help. But the outcome of the fight is farfrom clear. And the outcome will not be determined by anybodyexcept the Palestinians themselves. For many decades, the world hasclamored for Palestinian self-determination. Well, the clamor cannow cease. Palestinian self-determination is here for all the worldto see. So is self-determination good news or bad news? It alldepends on what is determined.

Utah is a ticking time bomb. Ever since the last congressionalreapportionment in 2000, when Utah failed by a mere 856 residents togain an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, theBeehive State has been abuzz with discontent. Utahans have gripedthat the 2000 census's statistical methods for computing statepopulations were based on "guesstimates" and thus flawed; they'vecomplained that, had the census counted the 11,000 Mormonmissionaries who were away from home at the time, Utah would havebeen awarded the additional seat; one Utah congressman even triedto freeze funding for a pet Census Bureau project until it camearound to Utah's way of thinking--or, rather, counting. And, aseach one of these arguments has fallen on deaf ears-- the courtsrejected Utah's lawsuit for a fourth seat, and the Utahcongressman's anti-census legislation went nowhere--the prospect ofunrest in the hardscrabble streets of Salt Lake and Ogden has onlygrown greater.

But now it seems disaster may be averted. Last week, the Senate'sHomeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed a billgiving Utah its extra seat. The measure now goes to the full Senatewhere, if it's passed, it will land on the president's desk, sincethe House passed identical legislation in April. At long last,Utahans are on the verge of achieving justice--not to mention afourth representative.

It's not the prospect of justice for Utahans, however, that mostexcites us. Rather, it's the prospect of justice for the Districtof Columbia. Because, should Utah gain a fourth voting member, theDistrict of Columbia will also gain one--which is one more than ithas now. As part of an ingenious solution to overcome Republicanobjections to awarding the District a meaningful seat, GOPRepresentative Tom Davis of Virginia and his Democratic colleagueEleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting House delegate,hitched the predominately Democratic District's fortunes to thepredominately Republican Utah's by proposing to expand the Housefrom 435 to 437 members, with one of the new seats going to Utahand the other going to the District.

The case for D.C. voting rights is obvious and has been made in thisspace before. To make it, again, briefly: District citizens payfederal taxes; they're subject to federal laws; they fight--anddie-- in America's wars. Moreover, it's problematic, to say theleast, that at a time when the U.S is trying to export democracyabroad, democracy is being denied to those who live in the nation'scapital. Now that Davis and Norton have come up with a way-- theirvanilla state for chocolate city trade-off--to give the Districtvoting representation in Congress without affecting the House'spartisan balance, the case for D.C. voting rights would seem to bea slam dunk.

But, alas, there are still a few hurdles standing in its way--namelyMitch McConnell and George W. Bush. McConnell has threatened tofilibuster the legislation; and, even if it overcomes a filibusterand passes the Senate, the White House has indicated it will vetothe measure. McConnell and Bush base their opposition on ostensiblyconstitutional grounds, arguing that the Constitution grantscongressional representation only to states, which, of course, theDistrict of Columbia is not. But the legislation, as it's crafted,addresses these concerns--since it provides for expedited judicialreview of the bill if it's challenged after becoming law. AsRepublican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said in voting for thebill in committee last week, "I have concluded that theconstitutionality of this legislation is a close call and is bestresolved by the courts and not by this committee."

Which means that something else may be behind Bush's and McConnell'scontinued opposition to the legislation. For years, Republicansblanched at the notion of voting rights for the District ofColumbia--not just for partisan reasons but for racial ones aswell. Simply put, the prospect of Representative Marion Barry wastoo much for them to bear. But the District--which is now governedby the reform-minded Mayor Adrian Fenty--has come a long way fromthe dark days of the Barry regime. It's past time for the fewremaining holdouts in the GOP to leave behind their dark days, too,by granting District residents the rights they deserve. And if, indoing so, they keep peace on the mean streets of Provo, that's allthe better.