The classic Marxist definition of fascism, put forward in 1935 by Georgi Dimitroff, holds that fascism is "the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital." This notion that the Nazis were the fighting brigade of the rich and powerful has had a remarkable shelf life. The only problem, as countless scholars have demonstrated over the years, is that this isn't true. Nazism was a popular movement that crossed all class and regional lines in Germany. Hitler was hardly a tool of the rich, and to the extent he was helped by a few wealthy individuals, the fact remains that the Nazis achieved their electoral success by portraying themselves as defenders of the little guy and of national pride.
Today, various pragmatists, optimists and apologists for the Palestinians say they weren't voting for mass murder and terror, but for honest government and efficient social services. Fatah, the "party" of that terrorist carbuncle Yasser Arafat, was corrupt and incompetent while Hamas has successfully delivered much-needed social services. Hamas ran on "change and reform," proclaim the apologists, not terrorism. Fine, but that was equally true of the Nazis, who traded soup kitchens for indoctrination. Fascist movements have always gained popularity by delivering for the needy, the forgotten and the left out. They have always captured the imagination of the middle class by promising to reform the government, root out corruption, make the trains run on time. And fascist movements have always promised, as Hamas has, to bring about a moral and national restoration.
The overnight nostalgia for Fatah is, of course, laughable. It hardly governed as a party of peace, democracy and secularism. But looked at through the eyes of many Palestinians, it probably looked a lot like the Weimar government did to many Germans: institutionally corrupt, ineffective and tainted by humiliating concessions to foreign powers and occupiers. (People forget how much the League of Nations carved up Germany - and how much it rankled Germans).
There are serious differences between German or Italian fascism and Hamas' Islamism. But these are largely intellectual and academic distinctions. As a social phenomenon, the Palestinians voted for politicians such as Mrs. Farahat. She belongs to a brutal, terroristic, irredentist, militant organization dedicated to restoring national pride at the expense of exterminating millions of people, who just happen to be Jews. This was no secret, and it is a form of condescension bordering on infantilism to assert that the Palestinians didn't know what they were voting for. If the new government had the means, it would be Palestine's willing executioners.
Recognizing this fact doesn't automatically mean we should treat the Palestinians like cartoon villains who can never change. That's as foolish as assuming they didn't know what they were getting when they cast a ballot for Mrs. Farahat.