MIXED REACTION IN PALESTINE TO HAMAS WIN
by Fawzia Sheikh
(IPS) JERUSALEM --- The Palestinian militant group Hamas has won an apparent victory in parliamentary elections. The win shocked the ruling Fatah party and has raised concerns about the future of the peace process, and about Palestine relations with an international community that regards Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Although the election -- the first parliamentary elections in 10 years -- was held Wednesday in East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the Central Elections Commission-Palestine had not announced official results by Thursday evening.
Preliminary reports said that Hamas had won the majority of 132 parliamentary seats. Opinion polls this month had predicted a close race for the two main contenders, Fatah and Hamas.
The Israeli government has voiced concern in recent days about the possibility of Hamas sweeping the election or at least winning a sizeable number of seats.
Officials said Israel would refuse to deal with any member of Hamas, which is an armed political group that openly advocates the destruction of Israel, and has repeatedly refused to discuss a peace agreement.
Hamas has over the years carried out suicide bombing attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which was previously run by former leader Yasser Arafat's party Fatah, had been working together over the last few years to finally forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians on the controversial issue of land they both believe they have god-given right to.
Western governments, realising Hamas had won a startling victory, warned the terrorist group that it must relinquish arms and take up the cause of peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Hamas members had said Wednesday that maintaining the group's militant character and governing Palestine were not mutually exclusive.
There was mixed reaction meanwhile to the defeat for Fatah.
In the West Bank town of Ramallah, where Palestinians celebrated by taking part in flag-waving political rallies and firing in the air, 20-year-old student Mehran Hamed was happy about Hamas's success.
Hamed believes it will spell a better future for all Palestinians who have endured years of corruption under Fatah. The party has been accused of mismanaging funds and allowing lawlessness to reign in the Palestinian territories. He said Hamas, which has in the past won accolades for its charity work among Palestinians, will invest in social programs like education and health care.
"We tested Fatah but they're not good," Hamed said. "So many things they did wrong."
Hamed rejects any description of Hamas as a band of terrorists, saying instead that they are "from our society, our place. They're part of us." He doubts the new Palestinian government of Hamas will make peace with Israel.
The young Muslim university student says the possible imposition of Islamic law will be beneficial because that is what all Muslims believe.
Sentiments were markedly different across town in the Old City neighborhood of east Jerusalem where many Palestinian Christians live and work.
"There is a big difference between policy and regime," said shop owner Elias Yanni, 31. "Hamas has only religion; it doesn't have policy. It's not good for religion and politics to mix."
Yanni said the European community and the United States will not wish to work with the fledgling Palestinian government. He said western nations could curtail aid, on which Palestinians depend heavily.
Because Hamas believes in fighting, he said, it will not work towards peace with Israel. "How can we live with war?"
Many Palestinian Christians are becoming quickly anxious about the possibility that Sharia law will be implemented, even though not all Palestinians are Muslim. Yanni is concerned that ultra-religious Hamas figures may clamp down on practices like drinking alcohol or mingling freely with the opposite sex.
"They will take away my democracy," said Yanni, concerned that though he has freedoms as an Israeli resident in east Jerusalem, he will be subjected to restrictions while visiting friends in Bethlehem or Ramallah.
"No peace. No negotiations with Israelis. The Europeans will not help us. It will be worse than it was before," he said.
Conflicting news reports since polls closed about Hamas's next steps have compounded the confusion and uncertainty among Palestinians.
Sima Kuhail, a 22-year-old architect in Ramallah, said she voted for Fatah because of its aspirations to achieve peace with Israel, but said also that perhaps Hamas's victory may be good for all.
Kuhail said she is not afraid of Islamic law being implemented in the territories. "They can force women, but I don't think they will," she said. "Islam is about free will. If I'm not wearing an Islamic dress, I'll wait for God to punish me, not political parties."
January 26, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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