Hamas Sweeps Palestinian Elections, Complicating Peace Efforts in Mideast

Youssef Shrafi, a Hamas candidate for the Palestinian parliament, is congratulated at his home in the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
Youssef Shrafi, a Hamas candidate for the Palestinian parliament, is congratulated at his home in the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. (By Mohammed Salem -- Reuters)
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 27, 2006

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan. 26 -- The radical Islamic movement Hamas won a large majority in the new Palestinian parliament, according to official election results announced Thursday, trouncing the governing Fatah party in a contest that could dramatically reshape the Palestinians' relations with Israel and the rest of the world.

In Wednesday's voting, Hamas claimed 76 of the 132 parliamentary seats, giving the party at war with Israel the right to form the next cabinet under the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah.

Fatah, which has dominated the legislature since the previous elections a decade ago and the Palestinian cause for far longer, won 43 seats. A collection of nationalist, leftist and independent parties claimed the rest.

Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, another Fatah leader, resigned his post along with his cabinet early Thursday, as reports of Hamas's victory began to circulate. Although the cabinet would have been required to step aside even if Fatah had retained its majority, Qureia acknowledged in submitting his resignation that Hamas had earned the right to form the next cabinet.

"This is the choice of the people," Qureia, a member of the party's discredited old guard who did not run for reelection, told reporters here. "It should be respected."

Abbas, on the other hand, will continue to serve the four-year presidential term he won in an election a year ago, shortly after the death of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, the founder of Fatah. Abbas will maintain the broad power to create national policy and control the security services, though he needs parliamentary approval for his budget and legislative proposals. He will also shape peace policy with Israel as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which does not include Hamas.

The arrival of Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, in the Palestinian Authority as a nearly equal partner will severely complicate Abbas's efforts to begin negotiations with Israel under the U.S.-backed peace plan known as the "road map." Hamas, which emerged in 1987 during the first Palestinian uprising as an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, favors the creation of a Palestinian nation on land that now includes Israel rather than the road map's two-state solution.

The election results stunned U.S. and Israeli officials, who have repeatedly stated that they would not work with a Palestinian Authority that included Hamas, which both countries and the European Union have designated as a terrorist organization. In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a party could not "have one foot in politics and the other in terror. Our position on Hamas has therefore not changed."

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said in a statement that the Palestinian people had "voted democratically and peacefully." But, he added, "these results may confront us with an entirely new situation which will need to be analyzed" at a meeting of European foreign ministers next week.

Jubilant Hamas leaders reiterated Thursday that they had no plans to pursue peace talks or disarm the party's armed wing, a condition Israel has set for beginning negotiations under the road map. The plan, which calls for the creation of an independent Palestinian state by the end of 2005, has been frozen during recent years of violence.

Here in Ramallah, a Fatah stronghold where Hamas won every parliamentary seat except the one reserved for a Christian, dozens of activists from both parties clashed in front of the Palestinian Legislative Council, as the parliament is formally known.

The dispute started when a Hamas supporter hung the party's emerald-green banner above the entrance in place of the national flag. Fatah activists arrived and tore down the banner, which bears the Islamic axiom, "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet." The fight that ensued was broken up by police officers, who fired warning shots into the air.

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