Hamas Wins Palestinian Elections, Government Resigns
Despite exit polls showing that the ruling Fatah terrorist group/political party achieved a plurality of votes in yesterday’s parliamentary elections, terrorist group Hamas won a majority. The current government resigned abruptly before even waiting for the official results to come in.
In a stunning development ahead of official election results, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorie said he and the rest of the Palestinian Authority government will resign in the wake of militant group Hamas’ apparent victory in historic elections. The announcement was an acknowledgment that election results showed Hamas had won a majority of seats in the 132-seat Palestinian Legislative Council, supplanting the ruling Fatah party.
Qorie’s office said it will be up to Hamas to form a new government. “It’s the choice of the people and it should be respected,” Qorie said. “I think, if the majority is approved and has been reached, I think Hamas should form a new government, it’s true. The president should ask Hamas to form a new government. “For me personally, I sent my resignation to the president to enable him to choose a new prime minister,” Qorie said.
Initial election results are scheduled to be released Thursday at 7 p.m. (noon ET).
Exit polls earlier had shown Hamas thrusting itself into the center of Palestinian politics but had not indicated an outright majority win by the group. The exit poll from Bir Zeit University, a respected Palestinian school, showed Fatah garnered 46.4 percent of the vote and Hamas won 39.8 percent in the 132-seat Palestinian Legislative Council. That translates into 63 seats for Fatah and 58 for Hamas, according to the exit poll.
But other polls showed Hamas claiming a slim majority, a claim echoed by some Hamas officials, prompting a warning from Jerusalem. Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel could not accept a situation in which Hamas in its current configuration — committed to the destruction of Israel — was a part of the Palestinian Authority. “I will not negotiate with a government that does not meet its most basic obligations — to fight terrorism. We are prepared to assist the Palestinians and Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) very much but they must meet their commitments,” Olmert said, according to a statement released by his office.
Apparently, exit polls are lousy predictors of vote outcomes even in the Middle East. This isn’t all that surprising since, after all, that’s not what exit polls are designed to do. They remain quite useful at their intended purpose: giving detailed insights after the fact of what motivated voters.
The AP provides additional information:
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 said before the election it does not want to govern alone, and would prefer to bring Fatah into a coalition. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said Thursday that the group will declare its intentions after official results are announced later in the day.
The result could have a devastating effect on the peace process with Israel. Mushir al-Masri, a senior Hamas official, said Thursday that recognizing Israel and negotiations with the Jewish state are ”not on our agenda.” 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.
Update (0627): My browser crashed during composition of this post and I lost my reference to a front-page piece from WaPo’s print edition that was still featured prominently on the website 10 minutes ago. It treated the election results as in doubt but likely looking very much like the Bir Zeit poll. [Update: That piece, “Hamas Makes Strong Showing in Vote,” is still available in the archives, just no longer displayed on the front page of the website.] By the time I rebooted the computer (Firefox had crashed three times), it had been replaced by a new piece by the same author, Scott Wilson, timestamped 6:09 and entitled, “Hamas Claims Victory in Palestinian Elections.”
It is the best piece I’ve encountered on the results this morning. One thing it makes clear is that, however inconvenient these results are for U.S. foreign policy aims, they almost certainly reflect the will of the voters.
“We knew that Hamas had this strength,” said Ghassan Khatib, the Palestinian Authority’s planning minister who does not belong to either party. “Having them inside the council, abiding by its laws and regulations, hopefully will be better than having them outside. Now competition will be based on legal politics, rather than outside the law in the streets.”
Election officials reported no serious problems Wednesday either as the result of Israeli security measures or inter-factional rivalry that had threatened to disrupt voting in several cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian elections officials said 77 percent of the 1.3 million registered Palestinians voters cast ballots on a brisk day, far surpassing the turnout in last year’s presidential race. In an initial assessment, a member of one international observer mission described the voting as “a generally smooth process with only sporadic violence and a robust turnout.” The observer from the National Democratic Institute/Carter Center delegation, who declined to be named because of the preliminary nature of his evaluation, said his team had received only isolated reports of problems with voting materials. The only apparent violation, the observer said, was the active political campaigning that occurred throughout the day. Palestinian election law requires campaigning to end 24 hours before the start of voting. But because all parties appeared to be violating the rule, the observer said, “at this point it doesn’t appear to be a serious impediment to the election.”
So, like it or not, we will have to live with these results. So will the Palestinian people. As noted yesterday morning, Hamas will have to grow up fast if they want to retain power–and if the Palestinians are to keep their autonomy.
Sean Hackbarth looks at the bright side:
A positive to the Palestinian elections was the lack of violence. People spoke with their ballots instead of bombs. It’s hard to take that taste of freedom away. But as Glenn Reynolds says, “Democracy is a process.” I want to be more hopeful about peace between Israel and Palestine, but Hamas won a considerable amount of seats in the parliment. They might have enough to force Fatah to let them into the cabinet.
Ed Morrissey counters with a much more grim view:
Once again, in a fairly free and somewhat honest vote, the Palestinians have chosen to continue waging war against Israel. Abbas wants to argue that Hamas will tame itself if it gets a chance to share governance with Fatah is sheer folly. This isn’t the Sunnis in Iraq, who may resent the loss of influence and power with the fall of Saddam but have followed the movement towards democracy. Hamas formed out of a singular hatred and philosophical determination to annihilate Israel, and giving them power only hands them better weapons with which to carry out those aims.
The powers that work to impose a peace on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have failed to take into account that the Palestinians have shown over and over again that they not only do not want peace, they do not value peace at all. They have consistently voted in support of terrorist organizations. Peace-espousing political parties play no role in Palestinian electoral efforts. Certainly Fatah doesn’t qualify as such; their own Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade conducted nearly as many terrorist raids as Islamic Jihad under Yasser Arafat and now attack their own leaders for not being amenable enough to killing Israelis in pizzerias and bus stops. Until the world gets over the notion that peace can exist when one side wants nothing more than all-out war, the situation in Southwest Asia will forever be in a state of suspension.
While I agree with the general tone of Morrissey’s assessment, the hope is that the desire to have a separate state will motivate Hamas to change. Is there a lot of reason for hope? No.
But all wars end in time. By moving most of their citizens out of settlements in the Occupied Territories and allowing the Palestinians to set up an autonomous government, they have invested that government with the responsibilities, if not all the privileges, of statehood. Either the Palestinians will see the need for peaceful coexistence with Israel or they will be defeated by them.
Update 2: Steven Taylor has a longish post noting that the results are more complicated than just “war versus peace.”
While there can be no doubt that those who voted for Hamas knew the groupÃ¢€™s position on Israel, this is a radical over-simplification of a complex political situation. For one thing, it isnÃ¢€™t as if Fatah was utterly opposed to political violence, or that their members were all lily-white in terms of their innocence vis-Ãƒ -vis terrorism. Remember: Fatah came out of the PLO, which was Hamas before Hamas was Hamas.
Quite so. While there are no doubt many Palestinians who voted for Hamas because they want to kill Jews, most likely did so because the alternative was the corrupt, incompetent party that has been in charge for over a decade. Sometimes, the devil you don’t know is preferable to the devil you have now.
Further, the Palestinian election is no different than U.S. elections in this regard. Pundits love to say that George Bush won because of abortion, values, Iraq, terrorism, or some other “One Big Thing.” In a close election, that type of analysis is both true and wrong. That is, it is mathematically true that, absent the support of any number of constituencies, the winner would have lost. It is wrong, though, to operate under the demonstrably false assumption that everyone who voted for the winner (or the loser, for that matter) has a unitary motivation.