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(photo credit: Associated Press)
More than 50 percent of the Palestinian Legislative Council is theirs, and they don't have a clue what to do next, but according to at least one Hamas leader, talking to Israel is in the cards.
"We're examining our options," said Yasser Mansour, the No. 5 Hamas leader told The Jerusalem Post. "We are researching each and every issue."
Indeed, a Hamas leader in Nablus, a professor at An-Najah University who did not run, told the Post that many of the leaders were disappointed with the results. "We didn't want this, we didn't hope for this. We wanted to be in the opposition," he said, speaking at a green-flagged, rabble-rousing victory rally in downtown Nablus. "Now all the responsibility is on us."
What is certain is that although it holds a majority and it can form its own government, Hamas does not want to run the country alone. "We will speak to all the parties and make a coalition," Mansour told the Post.
Hamas, and everyone else, expected the party to be a strong opposition. It could probably have continued terror attacks on Israel. It could have kept an eye on Fatah ministers and made sure the funds went where they were meant to go. It could have voted down any bills proposed that compromised its ideals. Let Fatah deal with the aftermath.
Forget that scenario now. Hamas won 57.5% of the PLC seats. "Instead of being an opposition in the Palestinian Authority, we are the PA," Ahmed Doleh, a well-spoken school principal and No. 36 on the Hamas list told the Post at the victory rally.
Doleh, wearing a suit and tie, shook hands with numerous men, young and old, who approached him after the rally and congratulated him.
Looking somewhat dazed at the responsibility that had fallen into the laps of his fellow Hamas colleagues, Doleh said Hamas would deal with Israel, like it already was doing in the municipalities, on issues that concern day-to-day life.
"Hamas will deal with Israel on daily issues," he said, repeating Mansour's mantra that the party is researching how to fulfill "the interests of the Palestinian people." It is only after those talks that it will make decisions regarding the future of the PA government.
"One of the first things we will do is become part of the Palestinian Liberation Organization," he said, referring to the umbrella group that makes all the important decisions and includes Palestinians in the country and abroad. Hamas was not a member until now.
On election day, before it was known that Hamas would be the government and not the opposition, the soft-spoken Mansour, who has been in and out of Israeli jails since 1992, talked to the Post in a reporter's car outside a local mosque.
He explained that the only way Hamas would end its attacks was if the occupation ended. "Then Hamas can give peace," he said.
Mansour said Hamas will offer Israel a long-term hudna (cease-fire). "There is no time-limit to a hudna. It depends on the sides," he said.
At that point Mansour spoke of ideology. He said that ideally Hamas would want the world to be an Islamic state, but practically speaking it wants a Palestinian state in all of mandatory Palestine.
"We can accept that the Israelis who were born here will be citizens in our state," he said, adding that the Palestinian people will decide the nature of the state. "We cannot force people to be religious."
However, Fatah voters were fearful of war, not religion, when they woke up to discover that Hamas had a majority. "This means trouble," said an accountant and Fatah loyalist in a coffee shop downtown. "No one can predict what a future with Hamas will bring. Maybe there will be a fight or maybe Hamas will resign."
He worried about the future with other countries. "We were hoping that after the elections we could make a peace deal with the Israelis and finish this fighting," he said. "Do you think the EU, US and Israel will support the new Palestinian government with Hamas? If Israel does not agree to Hamas's demands, it will mean reverting to fighting. Since they will control the military, they will tell them to fight. The people are weak. They can't fight."
Indeed, the security forces guarding hotels where foreign election observers stayed had long faces. "This is terrible," said one named Majdi. "Maybe Hamas will tell us to go to war."
Looking over at his colleagues, he asked "You guys ready for jihad?"
The line of young men in camouflage uniforms carrying assault rifles looked up at him blankly. "No man," said one. "No way."
But hours after the results were announced, Hamas voters in Nablus said that Hamas's victory means that it will for certain lay down its arms and give up its ideology.
"If they were in the opposition, they would have been able to continue attacks," said a university student named Essam as he sat in a Nablus coffee shop with a friend, smoking a water pipe and discussing the new situation. "But now that they are the government, they can't attack Israel."
His friend Yazen, who also voted for Hamas, looked forward to the new situation. "Now they must talk to Israel. They have no choice. We need to stability and they have to bring it."