Monday, January 23, 2006

What if Hamas Wins?

By KARIN LAUB,
Associated Press
Jan 23, 2006

Israel, the United States and the international community are bracing for the possibility of a Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary election Wednesday. Here is a rundown of what could happen if the Islamic militant group wins.

Q: Can it win?

A: Polls indicate that Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement are running neck-and-neck. Since nine smaller parties are also competing, it's possible that neither Hamas nor Fatah will win an absolute majority — or 67 of 132 seats.

Q: What happens if Hamas wins the largest number of seats?

A: Under Palestinian law, the party that wins the most seats would be asked to form a government. However, Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas ideologue and parliament candidate, said Monday the group does not want to govern alone under any circumstances and would seek to form a coalition, preferably with Fatah.

Q: What role would Hamas seek in such a government?

A: Hamas wants the service ministries, such as health, education and welfare, and would be content to let Abbas handle contacts with Israel, including negotiations. In recent days, Hamas leaders have sent mixed signals, saying they do not rule out talks with Israel, but attach conditions and say they expect little from such negotiations. Hamad said that in a Hamas-Fatah coalition, his group would want to have some say on future negotiations with Israel, but suggested it would not veto Abbas' moves.

Q: Would Israel and the international community deal with a Palestinian government that includes Cabinet ministers from Hamas?

A: Israel, the U.S. and the international community are still trying to come up with an approach. In Israel, disagreements have emerged, with one top security official saying privately that Israel should engage Hamas in hopes of moving the group in a more moderate direction. However, the official line is that Israel will continue boycotting Hamas until it disarms and renounces its call for Israel's destruction.

U.S. officials they will not deal directly with Hamas members of a Palestinian government, but suggest Washington would not shun the entire government. The U.S. and EU have said some foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority would be in jeopardy if Hamas joins the government. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday that Britain would not talk to Hamas unless it renounces terrorism.

Q: Would Fatah agree to become a junior partner in a Hamas-run coalition?

A: Abbas said in a recent interview that he would resign if he cannot pursue his policy of negotiating with Israel after the election. It is unlikely Fatah would join Hamas unless it won assurances the Islamic group would not block Abbas' peace moves.

Q: Will Hamas agree to disarm, as required under the U.S.-backed road map peace plan?

A: No. Hamas, which is pledged to Israel's destruction, says it will not dissolve its armed wing until Israel's occupation has ended. But it does not make it clear what territories it considers occupied — just the West Bank and Gaza, or Israel itself as well.

Q: Will Hamas continue observing an informal truce with Israel, in effect since February?

A: Hamas leaders insist the group has the right to resist Israeli occupation, but it is widely expected that Hamas will continue observing the cease-fire as it tries to win greater political legitimacy.

Q: If Fatah emerges as the largest party and forms the government, would it bring Hamas into a coalition?

A: Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath said this week that Fatah's first choice as a coalition partner are the smaller independent parties. However, if such a coalition is too shaky, Fatah might seek Hamas as a partner, but only if an agreement on future peace moves is reached.

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