Analysis: The earthquake

And so it came to pass. The earthquake whose warning rumblings the secular Palestinian leadership insistently refused to heed has struck. The era of Fatah is over. The Islamists have taken control. "No one will vote for Hamas," Nidal Abu-Dahan, Mahmoud Abbas's bodyguard, declared derisively in this column two weeks ago ("Why the Palestinians are voting for Hamas," January 13), defiantly discounting a series of local election results across the West Bank that had already proved the contrary. Hamas will get "50.5 percent," Ziad Dayyeh, one of those newly elected local councillors, predicted in the same column, averaging out the municipal election showings and actually, as it has turned out, underestimating the disgust with which ordinary Palestinians have come to regard the Fatah fat cats. Until yesterday, Israel and the rest of the West were grappling with the problem of how to relate to a Hamas minority in a still Fatah-dominated new Palestinian Authority government, as deaf as Abbas and his colleagues to the scale of the shift on the Palestinian street. Now there can be no escaping the Islamist reality, even if Abbas proves prepared to serve as the fig-leaf, the acceptable, secular, face of the Palestinians' new leadership. Until yesterday, Israel and much of the West were issuing demands that Hamas recognize Israel and put down its arms as a precondition for substantive contacts, that it abide by the democratic precondition for one rule of law, one legitimate force of arms. Now Hamas's leaders might assert that, in fair elections with an overwhelmingly high turnout, the Palestinian public has entrusted them with the rule of law, that they bear the single legitimate force of arms. Ordinary Palestinians will tell you that they voted for Hamas because the Fatah PA cheated them and stole from them, whereas the Islamists have proved themselves exemplars of good governance at the local level. Many will stress that their vote for Hamas was not a ballot for a renewed campaign of suicide bombings and shooting attacks on Israeli targets. And many Hamas officials will doubtless highlight, as Ziad Dayyeh did when I met with him in El-Bireh two weeks ago, that the patron of those suicide bombings and of Hamas itself, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, provided religious legitimacy for a suspension of such attacks and a temporary accommodation with Israel. But Hamas's founding charter is uncompromising in its intolerance of Israel. It strives "to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine" and prescribes "resistance and quelling the enemy" as "the individual duty of every Muslim, male and female." Some may seek comfort in the belief that an ascent to government could prompt a greater sense of responsibility, a move to moderation. But Hamas's intolerance is based on a perceived religious imperative. No believing Muslim, in the Hamas conception, can be reconciled to Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East. To deny that, for Hamas, is blasphemy. And that is the ideology to which the Palestinian people, for whatever reason and by their own free hand, have just tied their fate. That is the guiding ideology with which Israel and the West will now have to grapple.