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Palestinians Face Future After Hamas Victory


The landslide victory by the militant Islamic group Hamas in Palestinian legislative elections this week, has stunned fellow Palestinians as well as much of the rest of the world.

The elections were seen as a vital exercise in democracy that was supposed to bring the Palestinians closer to peace talks with Israel and to an independent state. Many are now questioning whether that exercise went terribly wrong, as Palestinian voters opted for radical change by electing an Islamic fundamentalist group that opposes peace talks and Israel's very existence.

No one may be more unnerved by the Hamas victory than Israelis, who are now faced with a Palestinian administration that has carried out dozens of deadly attacks in recent years.

Israel's interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has already said Israel will not negotiate with Hamas. Senior government advisor, Ranaan Gissin told VOA the Palestinians have a choice to make. "It's us or Hamas," he said. "Either they [Palestinians] want to have a partner and go for the roadmap to peace, or they're going for an Iranian model state, which will be a radical Islamic one, which will engage in continuous terror that will only cause more suffering and more misery to the Palestinian people."

Israeli officials say only if Hamas disarms and recognizes Israel's right to exist can there be any chance of dialogue.

Much of the rest of the world is sending a similar message to Hamas: to lay down its guns, accept the state of Israel and talk peace. U.S. President Bush made it clear Hamas must change to be considered a partner for peace.

Hamas leaders, flush with victory, are sending some moderate signals and say they will soon begin talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on forming a new government. They continue to talk about liberating Palestinian land, but also vow to deliver clean government and better services to the people.

In the end, says former Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio, that is what will count and that could moderate the militant group. "Government is a sobering experience," she said. "You don't really know how government transforms people and ideas until really you are confronted with your first obligation, your first responsibility, which is to deliver."

Ms Palacio was part of a team of international election observers. She says there is a great opportunity for Hamas to show it can be a trusted partner, but she says there is also concern what might happen if the group does not moderate.

The Hamas victory has prompted talk of dashed hopes for a resumption of peace talks with Israel. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who led the international observer team, says that may be overstated. "We're not interrupting a major, successful peace process," he explained. "You know there haven't been any peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders for the past three and a half years. Once Mahmoud Abbas was elected a year ago, we thought that this would open a fairly immediate possibility for peace talks. There haven't been any peace talks."

President Carter said that if Hamas changes, peace efforts might actually be invigorated.

Others see it differently, noting that Israel is more likely to take further unilateral steps to simply disengage from the Palestinians and draw its own future borders.

Nothing is likely to happen on the peace front in the weeks and months ahead. The world will watch closely Hamas's every move and what sort of government the Palestinians form, and the question then remains, what sort of government will Israelis end up with after their elections at the end of March?

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