Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Thursday, 26 January 2006

Which direction now for Hamas?

By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab Affairs Analyst

Hamas supporters celebrating in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip
An exercise in democracy, but where will it lead?
The Islamic militant group Hamas says it has won the Palestinian parliamentary election. Although official results have not yet been declared, the ruling Fatah party has not disputed the claims.

In response, the Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei has said he will resign. The Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator Saeb Erekat admitted that early indications suggested Fatah had lost the election.

Palestinian democracy

The election is undoubtedly a huge victory for Palestinian democracy because it has ended the near monopoly of Fatah over political life in Palestinian society for the best part of 50 years.

But paradoxically it is a democracy that may not necessarily carry with it the prospect of a lasting peace with Israel, at least in the near future.

Hamas cannot have it both ways - it cannot be in government and at the same time refuse to deal with Israel
Hamas does not recognise the State of Israel, which in turn refuses to talk to an organisation committed to its destruction.

The Hamas victory presents both the Palestinian political class and the international community with a huge dilemma.

Washington and the EU, which have pressured the Palestinians to hold democratic elections, cannot now object to the outcome of the elections without laying themselves open to charges of hypocrisy.

Crucially, the result has landed Hamas itself in a very difficult situation. It cannot be part of the Palestinian Authority and at the same time remain committed to what it calls the armed struggle.

Complex situation

The Palestinian Authority was created by the international agreement known as the Oslo Peace Accords, which stipulate that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians should be resolved by peaceful means only.

Moreover, whoever runs the Palestinian Authority has to liaise Israeli officials to deal with issues such as water and power supplies.

Hamas cannot have it both ways - it cannot be in government and at the same time refuse to deal with Israel.

The next few days and weeks will show whether Hamas can demonstrate the maturity needed to deal with a uniquely complex political situation.

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