Grappling with Hamas [pg. 16]

The most Palestinians did not vote for them, their victory is a reality that all must adjust to - including Hamas itself.

The Palestinian people have spoken and their voice has been heard. The results did not surprise me. I had predicted a 55% Hamas victory weeks before the elections. Hamas won a majority of Palestinians' votes, but did not win a majority of support from the public. Hamas took 74 seats of the 132 parliamentary seats - or 56 percent. The Palestinian electoral system is complex, where every citizen votes for a national list for 66 members of parliament. They also vote for a district list from which another 66 members of parliament are elected. The number of representatives in each district is determined by the relative size of the population there. Thus in the district of Hebron, one of the largest districts, each citizen had to check off nine names from a list of 46 candidates. Of the 46 candidates running Hamas presented only nine, while Fatah, a few small parties and independents made up the remaining 37 candidates. The average citizen who did not support Hamas ended up dividing his or her support among 37 candidates, while Hamas supporters voted for the nine Hamas candidates. Therefore in Hebron, which is just one example of what happened almost all over the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas took all nine seats. Hamas received 29 seats on the national lists and 45 in the district lists (74 seats in total). On the national list Hamas received 43.94% of the vote, meaning that 56.06% of the Palestinian voters did not vote for Hamas on the national list. On the district lists Hamas won 68% of the seats, with non-Hamas candidates taking 32% of the seats. But, in reality, in the districts Hamas candidates received only 36.5% of the votes while non-Hamas candidates received 63.5% of the votes. Thus a majority of Palestinians voted against Hamas. But Hamas presented a unified list in each district while Fatah (and others) had a multiplicity of candidates. While this explanation does not alter the results of the elections, it is somewhat more comforting to recognize that the voice of the Palestinian electorate did not give a majority of support to Hamas. BUT BEYOND this technical explanation, Hamas also won because the Aksa Intifada received wide public support, And this, in turn, can be traced to the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon under Ehud Barak. In the Palestinians' eyes, Hizbullah forced Israel out of Lebanon. Likewise, they believe Israel evacuated Gaza as a result of Hamas attacks inside and outside Gaza. Israel left Gaza not as a result of negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas and his moderate regime. In so doing we undermined him and ourselves. Meanwhile, Abbas had few achievements to present to voters. PA finances are in ruins; corruption is rampant; fiscal control is minimal. The public sector is bloated and, as a result, international support is frozen. Abbas did not confront armed militias; chaos prevails. In this environment Hamas presented itself as the party with clean hands. It promised to clean up government, end corruption and prosecute those who have stolen money from the Palestinian people. DID THE election of Hamas end the peace process? The answer is: We don't yet know. There is no immediate pressure for Hamas to present a government. The current caretaker government can continue for some time. Hamas is busy holding consultations, internally and with other leaders in the Arab world. What will Abbas do now? As president (or PA chairman) he says he wants to take control of all the security forces and conduct foreign policy, as well as have responsibility for relations with Israel and the West. Paradoxically, the position of prime minister was created for Abbas because Israel and the West lost all faith in Yasser Arafat when he was chairman of the PA. The prime minister was granted legal control over three of the main security forces. Now Hamas demands that those forces be under a Hamas-led government. Many people are suggesting that Hamas will go through a period of reform. And some moderate Hamas voices have been heard in the past few weeks. Egypt and the Arab League are pressuring the movement to recognize Israel and continue the Oslo process. Hamas spokespeople have said that Hamas will never recognize Israel's right to exist, but that Hamas would not necessarily have a problem honoring signed agreements that meet the Palestinians' interests. Egypt and the Arab League are pressuring Hamas to accept the Arab League Peace initiative from March 2002, which proposes full peace and recognition of Israel by the entire Arab world if Israel withdraws to the 1967 lines and accepts the right of return as interpreted by GA Resolution 194. If Hamas were to accept this approach Israel would face renewed demands to end the occupation. It would also put a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority in line with the Arab League. That, in turn, would obligate its members to provide financial aid to Palestine that would be lost if there were an international boycott against a Hamas-led PA. A HAMAS government would at any rate not be intimidated by US and EU threats to stop financial support. It is not clear how, without Western acquiescence, it would transfer necessary funds - over $1 billion a year (some of it Iranian money, the rest from Islamic charities in places such as Saudi Arabia) to PA coffers via the international banking system. As for threatening that Hamas's installation could delay Palestinian statehood - as President George W. Bush did in his State of the Union address: Let's remember that Hamas is quite willing to let go of the idea of the two-state solution, in which the state would be established on roughly 28% of Palestine (west of the Jordan). Hamas would rather it be established on 100% of this land - namely all of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Israel. So if anyone urgently needs Palestinians willing to accept a mini-state, it is Israel. The writer is the Israel/Palestine Center for Research & Information.