Thursday, January 26, 2006
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will ask Hamas to form the next Palestinian government after the Islamic militants swept parliamentary elections yesterday, and the defeated Party will serve in the opposition, a senior Fatah legislator said Thursday morning.
Senior Hamas leader and top candidate for the Palestinian parliamentary elections, Ismail Hanieh, center, waves to supporters during a rally to mark the 18th anniversary of the founding of the Islamic group, in Gaza City, in this file photo. Despite no immediate public displays of celebration, Hamas on Thursday claimed victory in Wednesday parliament election, saying that based on partial results it won a solid majority of seats, a dramatic upset confirmed by senior officials in the rival Fatah Party. Israel and the United States have said they would not deal with a Hamas-led Palestinian government. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he would step down if he could no longer pursue his peace agenda with Israel. (AP Photo/Adel Hana/File)
A Hamas-only government, without Fatah as a moderating force, is sure to throw Mideast peacemaking into turmoil. The Islamic militants, who carried out dozens of suicide bombings and seek 's destruction, have said they oppose peace talks and will not disarm. Israel and the United States have said they will not deal with Hamas.
Earlier Thursday, exiled top Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, right, told Abbas his group is ready for a political partnership. Mashaal's biography says he once survived an assassination attempt on 25-Sep-1997, in which agents of the Israeli Mossad injected him with an unknown chemical. Jordanian King Hussein I intervened on his behalf, citing a 1994 peace treaty, and Israel was forced to supply the antidote for Mashall.
However, Fatah does not want to join a Hamas government, said Fatah legislator Saeb Erekat. "We will be a loyal opposition and rebuild the party," Erekat said, after meeting with Abbas. Abbas will ask Hamas to form the next government, Erekat said.
Officials in both parties said Hamas appeared to have captured a large majority of seats in Wednesday's elections. The Central Election Commission said the vote count had not been completed and that it would make an official announcement Thursday evening.
Israel and the United States have said they would not deal with a government led by Hamas, which has carried out dozens of suicide bombings and which they consider a terrorist group.
Acknowledging the Hamas victory, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his Cabinet ministers resigned Thursday -- hours before official results from Wednesday's vote were released.
"This is the choice of the people. It should be respected," Qureia said. "If it's true, then the president should ask Hamas to form a new government." The Cabinet remained in office in a caretaker capacity.
Under the law, Abbas must ask the largest party in the new parliament -- presumably Hamas -- to form the next government. Abbas was elected separately a year ago and remains president.
Hamas capitalized on widespread discontent with Fatah's corruption and ineffectiveness. Much of its campaign focused on internal Palestinian issues, while playing down the conflict with Israel.
Israeli officials declined comment on the outcome, but senior security officials gathered Thursday to discuss the results. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, below left, scheduled talks with senior officials later in the day.
Olmert said Wednesday, before Hamas claimed victory, that Israel cannot trust a Palestinian leadership in which the Islamic group has a role.
"Israel can't accept a situation in which Hamas, in its present form as a terror group calling for the destruction of Israel, will be part of the without disarming," Olmert said in a statement issued by his office.
Reactions to the Hamas victory streamed in from around the world. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, according to news reports, called it a "very, very, very bad result." But Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the 's external relations commissioner, said Hamas must be "ready to work for peace" with Israel if it joins the Palestinian government.
U.N. Secretary-General congratulated the Palestinian people on the peaceful elections, which he views as an important step toward a Palestinian state.
told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Wednesday the United States will not deal with Hamas until it renounces its position calling for the destruction of Israel.
Hamas said before the election it does not want to govern alone, and would prefer to bring Fatah into a coalition. Hamas officials said the group would declare its intentions after official results are announced.
Hamas' exiled supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, called Abbas from to discuss the results. "He stressed Hamas insists on a partnership with all the Palestinian factions, especially our brothers in Fatah," Hamas said on its Web site.
Before the election, Hamas had suggested it would be content as a junior partner in the next government, thus avoiding a decision on its relationship with Israel. Throughout the campaign, leaders sent mixed signals, hinting they could be open to some sort of accommodation with Israel. Its apparent victory will now force it to take a clearer position on key issues, including whether to abandon its violent ideology.
Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas candidate who won election in the northern , sent mixed signals about the group's plans. He said peace talks and recognition of Israel are "not on our agenda" but the group is ready for a partnership -- presumably with Abbas.
Fatah's official position wasn't immediately clear. Officials appeared to be in shock, turning off their phones and avoiding reporters. There was no reaction from Abbas.
One defeated Fatah candidate, Nabil Amr, said he did not expect his party to accept a junior position in a Hamas-led government. "I don't think Fatah can participate in a lower position," said Amr.
The election marked the first time Hamas has contested a legislative vote, and leading the Cabinet could give it significant powers. The Cabinet holds wide control over security forces, finance and other government functions, though Abbas has retained power mainly through tradition and political leverage.
Abbas, in his role as leader of the , would still remain in charge of negotiations with Israel.
Palestinian election officials confirmed early Thursday that Hamas had won a large majority of the seats up for grabs in electoral districts in the and Gaza.
Half the seats were chosen on a national list and the other half by districts. While the national voting appeared to be close, election officials said Hamas had won a large majority in the district races. Hamas apparently took advantage of divisions in Fatah; the long-ruling party fielded multiple candidates in many districts, allowing the Islamic group to capitalize.
Initial exit polls had forecast a slight edge for Fatah, with Hamas coming in a strong second. The polls predicted that neither party would have a majority and would have to rely on smaller parties to form a coalition.
However, on Thursday morning, Hamas officials said the group had won up to 75 seats -- giving it a solid majority in the 132-member parliament.
Officials in Fatah conceded that Hamas had won about 70 seats. They spoke on condition of anonymity because counting in some districts was continuing.
Palestinian pollsters were at a loss to explain the discrepancy between the exit polls. Many voters said they had been afraid to admit to pollsters they had supported Hamas, fearing retribution.
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi (seen when confronted by an Israeli border policeman, right, asking her to stop displaying a banner at Damascus Gate), who apparently was re-elected on a moderate platform, said the Hamas victory was a dramatic turning point. She said she is concerned the militants will now impose their fundamentalist social agenda and lead the Palestinians into international isolation.
She said Fatah's corruption, Israel's tough measures and international indifference to the plight of the Palestinians were to blame for Hamas' strong showing.
Washington miscalculated in pushing for the vote, as part of its pro-democracy campaign in the Arab world, she said. "The Americans insisted on having the election now, so they have to respect the results of the election, as we all do," she said.
Israel has repeatedly asked Abbas to force Hamas and other militant groups to disarm but Abbas has refused, warning such an act could cause civil war. Hamas has committed dozens of suicide bombings against Israel.
Turnout was heavy, with nearly 78 percent of 1.3 million eligible voters casting ballots. Polling stations were heavily guarded, and there were no reports of major violence.
International observers, including former President Carter, left, reported no major problems with fraud. President Carter is seen as he visits a polling station in Al-Eizariya, on the edge of Jerusalem, January 25, 2006. Palestinians voted on Wednesday in their first parliamentary elections in a decade. About 900 foreign observers, led by Carter, were monitoring the process. REUTERS/Mahfouz Abu Turk.
Source: AP-Yahoo News.
D.H.: So much for Bush exporting Democracy and Christianity to the Middle East. It's working, Mr. President -- only too well. I think we need to revise our policy of not working with terrorists, and say we work only with friendly terrorists, or peaceful terrorists who use poison and not bombs. Clarification is needed here, Mr. Bush. Maybe we should stop inviting the Mossad to attend our CIA training schools as well.
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