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Israelis Have Conflicting Opinions of How to Respond to Hamas Victory

  • Simon Marks

The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, says he will continue to pursue peace with Israel, despite the shock victory by the radical Islamic organization Hamas in last week’s Palestinian elections. He is also asking that international funding for the Palestinians not be cut off.

Israel's Acting Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, is urging the international community to stand together, and refuse to deal with a Hamas-led government unless the organization renounces violence and its call for the destruction of Israel.

These are uncertain times in Palestinian politics … and supporters of Fatah have been turning on the faction's leaders. Furious that their party's 10-year dominance of Palestinian elected politics is over, they stormed the Parliament buildings in Gaza and on the West Bank.

The winners meanwhile are huddling with their supporters. Hamas leaders who never expected to win the elections are now trying to come to terms with the duties of government.

Nowhere is the outcome of those discussions more closely observed than in Jerusalem, Israelis are hotly debating the consequences of the political earthquake on their doorstep.

“I don't think anything that happens in the Palestinian territories could shock Israelis; we're beyond shock,” says liberal Israeli intellectual Hirsh Goodman. He believes the election results could present his country with an opportunity.

“Israel is going to be watching the music very carefully. And one thing about Hamas, first of all, it has had a cease-fire with Israel for the last year and a half. The suicide bombers have not come from Hamas. The second thing is that they've always been a pragmatic party with a social agenda. And because of its pragmatism, there is a window of opportunity here. But it's going to take a lot of people climbing down from a lot of trees and a bit of time,” he added.

Conservatives here disagree. With Israel due to hold an election of its own in two month's time, they say the Hamas victory should mark a formal end to a period in which Israel tried to engage with the Palestinian Authority.

A spokesman for the conservative Likud Party said Israel's withdrawal from settlements on the Gaza Strip pushed through by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who later left the party before the stroke that left him in a coma, was the cause of the Hamas victory. When Israel flees, said a Likud spokesman, Hamas rises.

“Let's stop excusing them and let's start treating them as responsible adults, says conservative analyst Yossi Klein Halevi of The Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think thank. He says Israel should take a tough stand.

“I suspect that the consensus that will emerge in the coming days in Israel is that a Hamas government even if it's democratically elected is a government that represents the random murder of over a thousand Israelis. We will treat the democratically-elected government of Palestine as a terrorist, genocidally-minded organization.”

Hard-liners say the Hamas victory makes them even more determined to push for an expansion of the wall that Israel has constructed separating Palestinian villages on the West Bank from Israeli settlements. And with an Israeli campaign getting underway, the politics of the Palestinian authority are likely to loom large in Israel's domestic political debate.

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