Jacob Sullum

In November 2003, when he announced his "forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East," President Bush declared that "the only path to independence and dignity and progress" for the Palestinians is "the path of democracy." He added that "the consistent and impartial rule of law" is one of the "essential principles common to every successful society."

Less than four years later, the Bush administration is backing the illegal removal of a democratically elected Palestinian government. This turnaround, along with the administration's continued solicitude toward authoritarian allies such as Egypt and Pakistan, shows Bush was either insincere or mistaken in promising that the United States would no longer have to choose between promoting democracy and promoting its interests.

It's not hard to understand why Bush prefers the West Bank-based "emergency government" of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the Gaza-based regime of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. While Abbas' secular nationalist party, Fatah, has recognized Israel's right to exist, renounced terrorism and committed itself to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Haniyeh's Islamist party, Hamas, has done none of these things.

But the fact remains that Hamas took control of the Palestinian parliament as a result of apparently free and fair elections in January 2006, the first such vote permitted by the Fatah-run government in a decade. The fighting that culminated in Hamas' takeover of Gaza was sparked mainly by conflicts over control of the various security forces, which often resemble armed gangs more than police or soldiers, loyal to particular leaders rather than the government or the people it represents.

The rivalry between Fatah and Hamas was compounded by legal ambiguity. Under the Basic Law (the Palestinian constitution), the president, Abbas, is the "Commander-in-Chief of the Palestinian Forces." At the same time, the Council of Ministers, headed by Haniyeh, has "the responsibility to maintain public order and internal security."

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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