Ha’aretz has been following Abu Mazen’s attempts to incorporate Hamas into the Palestinian Authority–an offer that seem to have been rejected by the leadership recently–raising an interesting theoretical and moral point: who gets to participate in a democracy?
Some people make a strong claim why Hamas should not be allowed to gain legitimacy through the political system; the White House has made it clear in the past that it would not do business with Hamas if it enters government. And there is a good point there–doing business with a terrorist organization whose explicit aim is to kill civilians is generally a bad idea.
On the other hand, freedom of choice of representatives and of characteristic of government is certainly a value to uphold. Which poses a problem: under what criteria should democratic states work with members of government from other democracies? I’d suggest a sort of test, to limit the possibility that decisions would be made subjectively, influenced by the feelings one might have regarding the tenets of radical Islam or what have you. Here is it:
1. Are the party members fully reliant on the State for coercive force (meaning, do they maintain the ability to violently oppose decisions that the government as a whole might make in contradiction to their votes, thereby granting them more power than they would have officially)?
2. Does the party solely operate independently in the domestic sphere, and cooperate with the policies of the State in the international sphere (meaning, do they pour their energy and time into activities that could be termed ‘civil society’ or do they instead exist to conduct separate foreign policies than the State)?
3. Would the party be willing to accept that it is possible that their interpretation of the law will not be adopted by the State, and would they be willing in participating in the politics of the State even if a law passed democratically would be in direct contradiction to the values of the party (meaning, if one of the tenets of the party–for example–is that Sha’aria or Halakha is the only acceptable legal code, would they still participate in a government which passes a law explicitly in contradiction to that code)?
If Hamas is willing to reconstitute to pass this test, I think that democratic governments should cooperate with them by all means. Having repugnant ideas should in no-way put you beyond the pale of democratic discourse. Otherwise, what would we do with Pat Buchanan?