The Islamic militant group Hamas is preparing to form the next Palestinian government after its victory in Wednesday's parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, in Gaza City, thousands of Fatah members -- angry over the ruling party's defeat -- demonstrated to demand the resignation of corrupt officials. There are sharply conflicting views about Hamas -- both in the Middle East, and in the United States.
Hamas' landslide victory in parliamentary elections means it effectively controls the Palestinian government. Rafi Dajani, with the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington D.C.-based group that favors a Palestinian state, says many Palestinians were discontented with the longtime rule of the Fatah Party, which did not give them want they wanted.
"They did not deliver on social services, they did deliver on corruption, they didn't deliver on law order, and they certainly didn't deliver on statehood, he told us. “So Hamas comes along and says, 'Look, we haven't delivered on statehood, so far, because we haven't been governing, but we have delivered on social services, we're not corrupt, we are clean, vote for us,' and the people voting for Hamas was a solid rejection of the failure of the existing institutions."
Hamas has carried out dozens of suicide bombings against Israel, and says it will not disarm. Hamas and Israel oppose peace talks with each other, but Mr. Dajani says Hamas may slowly be changing some of its views.
"The last Hamas suicide bombing was in August of 2004 -- almost a year and a half ago. During the campaign, Hamas' platform did not mention at all, did not have a single word, about Israel's existence or the destruction of Israel or Israel's right to exist,” said Dajani. “We have the potential for hope that they will slowly evolve into a political party and shed its violent past."
But Jim Phillips, a Middle East expert at the conservative research organization the Heritage Foundation in Washington, thinks that possibility is remote.
"I think it will utter some moderate phrases, and hope to stay in power,” said Mr. Phillips. “But I don't think its ideology will be changed because it was founded essentially to destroy Israel, not to negotiate peace with Israel. And it would have to abandon its ideological moorings to change all that."
Mr. Dajani says, however, it does not benefit either side to maintain a hard line.
"The only way Israel can achieve the security it deserves, and the Palestinians can achieve the statehood they deserve, is through negotiation, and for there to be a viable, stable Palestinian state on the other side of the border that's able to stand on its own two feet. Each side adopting a hard-line position will ensure the result that the state, or whatever develops on the Palestinian side, will be unstable, will foster extremism and will provide Israel with continued insecurity."
But Mr. Phillips believes that with Hamas in power, there is no chance of renewed peace talks.
"Well I've argued for a time that the peace process was dead but not buried; it was kind of lying on the ground disintegrating, and I think this explodes the carcass," said Phillips.
For now, both analysts say, world leaders are waiting to see what Hamas will and won't do before deciding how to deal with the next Palestinian government and whether the peace process can be revived.