hamas flags bus 298.
(photo credit: AP)
Both Fatah and Hamas had good reason to be satisfied with the results of Wednesday's parliamentary election.
For Fatah, the mere fact that it had averted a humiliating defeat is in itself a major success. For Hamas, the fact that it managed to officially secure its position as the second largest Palestinian faction is seen by the Islamic movement's supporters as a remarkable victory.
The Hamas gains are largely attributed to the growing disillusionment among the Palestinians with Fatah's corruption and abuse of power over the past 12 years. Many Palestinians who voted for Hamas's Change and Reform List said they were eager to punish the ruling Fatah party for corruption and nepotism.
It's not clear at this stage if Hamas would be invited to join the new Palestinian cabinet. Talks about forming a new coalition are expected to begin only after the final results of the parliamentary election are announced over the weekend. It was also unclear late Wednesday night if Fatah had won enough votes to enable it to form a new cabinet alone.
Fatah leaders are divided over the issue of sitting with Hamas in the same cabinet. Veteran leaders of the party, including PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and Information Minister Nabil Shaath are strongly opposed to the idea of giving ministerial posts to Hamas officials.
Their biggest fear is that the international community would cut off financial aid to the Palestinians if Hamas leaders are given a say in decision-making.
However, representatives of the "young guard" in Fatah, including jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, head of the Fatah List for the election, have openly favored a coalition with Hamas. In TV interviews from his prison cell earlier this week, Barghouti expressed support for forming a broad national unity cabinet with other Palestinian factions, including Hamas.
Even if Hamas does not become part of the new coalition, its strong presence in the Palestinian Legislative Council will enable it to play a major role in future decision-making. Abbas and his Fatah party will no longer be able to ignore the power of Hamas, which has now become a legitimate force - one that was democratically attained through a "fair and free" election.
Hamas is now closer than ever to fulfilling its goal of duplicating the Hizbullah model, where it would maintain its armed wing while having elected representatives in parliament.
Hamas leaders were quick to emphasize on Wednesday night that their presence in parliament or the cabinet does not mean that they would dismantle their armed wing, Izzaddin al-Kassam.
The PA, which is under pressure from the US to disarm Hamas, will thus find it more difficult to take drastic measures against a movement that has won the support of so many Palestinians and whose top leaders now enjoy parliamentary immunity and other privileges.