Palestinian Parliamentary Elections

Compiled by Jefferson Morley Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2006 11:08 AM

What does Hamas's victory mean?

It marks a profound change in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. Under presidents Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, the secular Palestinian government was committed to the so-called "two-state solution" -- the negotiated establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, does not recognize Israel and is committed to the forced establishment an Islamic state in historic Palestine, which encompasses the Jewish state.

What does the vote mean for Palestinians?

Palestinians voted for change. They spurned the ruling Fatah party, which has been dogged by a reputation for corruption, toleration of lawlessness and inability to loosen Israel's tight grip on daily Palestinian life. They voted for Hamas which has reputation for honesty, social services and steadfast confrontation with Israel. Now Hamas is accountable for delivering on its campaign promises.

One key question is whether Hamas leaders can persuade Fatah leaders to join them in a coalition government. So far, Fatah leaders have said they will not participate in a Hamas government because their ideological differences are too great.

A second question is whether Hamas will resume suicide attacks on Israeli civilians. The group has generally refrained from attacks in recent months, since Israeli attacks had taken a toll on Hamas leadership and President Abbas called for a cessation of violence to bring about Israeli concessions. A resumption of attacks could provoke reprisals against Palestinian militants and civilians.

What will Israel do?

Israel says it will not negotiate with any government that seeks to eliminate the Jewish state. Israeli leaders will coordinate their position with U.S. policymakers. In the short-term, Israel is likely to maintain its current policy of unilaterally establishing borders between the Jewish state and Palestinian areas. Much depends on how Israelis vote in March for a prime minister to succeed the incapacitated Ariel Sharon.

What is the position of the United States?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. respects the election results but will maintain its position of not dealing with Hamas until it disarms and renounces violence.

But Israeli and Palestinian observers say that the United States, the European Union and other international donors to the Palestinian Authority face a difficult choice. They will have to decide if they are going to provide financial assistance to a Hamas-led government. Western donors have consistently shunned Hamas because of its terrorist tactics. But loss of international financial support could hurt the already crippled Palestinian economy, further destabilize the sometimes chaotic Palestinian territories and undermine Israeli security measures.

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