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Immediately after the Hamas victory in the Palestinian election was announced on Thursday, Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum scrambled to address the new situation in light of the upcoming Israeli election.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu called together reporters in the Knesset to say "I told you so." Parties on the Right sent a joint letter to Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asking him to delay the evacuation of the Amona outpost and Kadima officials expressed optimism that "ruling parties get strengthened in times of uncertainty."
For most of the day on Thursday, Kadima MKs declined to comment on the rise of Hamas, while opposition MKs went from camera to camera to criticize the party. Sources in Kadima said that their strategy was to allow Netanyahu to give numerous interviews and then accuse him of trying to use the Hamas victory and the prospect of terrorist attacks for political gain.
"Before our very eyes, Hamastan has been established," Netanyahu said. "It is the step-child of Iran and the Taliban. This has to be a day of soul-searching because the writing was on the wall. The policy of giving land for free gave a prize to terror and a winning card to Hamas. This is a new and dangerous situation. Sharon said he wouldn't let Palestinians in Jerusalem vote. Olmert let them."
Echoing Netanyahu were dozens of right-wing MKs, who said that there was a direct relationship between the disengagement and the Hamas victory.
"The Palestinian public recognized that Hamas's suicide bombers and Kassam rockets convinced the Kadima-led disengagement government to uproot Jews from Gush Katif," said MK Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party ).
National Union Chairman Zvi Hendel issued a statement saying that Hamas won because it showed the Palestinians that terror was the only way to "defeat and expel Israel." Hendel and Orlev said that they hoped that their parties would enjoy renewed interest among the Israeli public in light of Hamas's victory.
Likud MKs hinted that the Hamas victory might drive the Likud campaign further rightwards. "A Hamas victory will make Israelis finally realize that the unilateral withdrawal strengthened the extremists at the expense of the moderates," said MK Gilad Erdan (Likud), who added that it would strengthen the nationalist camp as a whole.
Labor chairman Amir Peretz, meanwhile, proved eager to show a strong security front by calling a morning meeting with its security team of MKs Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Danny Yatom, Ephraim Sneh and Isaac Herzog and candidates Ami Ayalon and Arieh Amit. Peretz said that without a peace partner, Labor would support a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank.
"We have no intention of allowing negotiations to take place, or allowing a third party to force us to recognize an organization that openly seeks to destroy Israel," Peretz said.
The Hamas victory might prove to be a major shifting point in the campaign, said Labor Party officials. To date, Peretz had led the party in a socio-economic campaign, but the new focus on Israeli-Palestinian relations might push Peretz to change his emphasis, said party officials.
"We will have to work very hard to show they can be strong while talking about defense and diplomacy," said one high-ranking Labor MK. "Our platform is similar to Kadima, we just need to show that we can be strong on these issues for the Israeli public."
Meretz leader Yossi Beilin argued that the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza strengthened Hamas by undermining the Palestinian Authority. Beilin, however, pushed for the Israeli government to push for a peace agreement while it could still negotiate with moderate Palestinian politicians.
While Meretz sources said that they could not support a Palestinian party that called for the destruction of Israel, they were the only party not to rule out future negotiations with Hamas.
"The victory of Hamas has a little bit of everything for everybody," said one Labor MK. "It will become the next big issue in the elections, for everyone to put their spin on."
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