Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas transforms from resistance movement to governing party

The political earthquake that swept Hamas to power in Wednesday's parliamentary elections has been rumbling below the surface of Palestinian life for nearly two decades.
Now, as Hamas faces the demands and responsibilities of governing, is it the same organization it was at birth or will the desire to participate in politics mean that its leaders will steer a more moderate course?

"Hamas faces the difficult task of adjusting from a resistance movement to a political party in the system," said Ziad Abu Amr, an independent Palestinian lawmaker who ran for office with Hamas' backing.

"What is it going to do with militants who made resistance a career? How is it going to deal with issues that matter to its voters: corruption, internal order, the peace process? It is much easier to be in the opposition and criticize mistakes," Amr said.

Hamas "has translated those mistakes into power," he said. "Now it has to translate power into change."


Spreading its ideology through mosques and social-service programs, Hamas provided medical care and free food programs, pressured women to dress modestly, attacked stores that sold liquor and killed those who were suspected of collaborating with "the Zionist entity."

During the campaign, Hamas leaders had hinted that they'd be content to be a strong force in the opposition rather than enter the government, a stance that allowed them to dodge questions about whether they'd recognize Israel if bilateral negotiations ever were revived.

But the group's landslide victory may force it to take clearer positions on key issues, including whether to renounce violence or revise its charter. For the moment, that seems unlikely.

Peace with Israel "is not on our agenda," Mushir al-Mari, a Hamas lawmaker-elect from the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, said in an interview Thursday.

Arguably out of complete ignorance, I was less surprised by the results than the media mavens who professed to be nothing less than shocked by the outcome of the elections. A lot of the reports in the run-up featured interviews with Angry Palestinians on the Street, followed by commentary to the effect that Fatah was really, really going to have to get their act together this time. All of the commenters know a hell of a lot more than I do about the situation over there, but boy, those Palestinians sure sounded pissed.

Anyway, my first reaction to the headlines today was "checkmate." And I'm still not sure who's trapped who.

Update: Juan Cole has the real deal.


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