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Hamas Parliament Takes Shape

Prepared by: cfr.org editorial staff
February 17, 2006

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As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prepares to travel to the Middle East next week, the implications of the Hamas victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections are still unclear. The United States and Israel are deeply concerned about the group's apparent unwillingness to renounce violence and recognize Israel. Decisions by Turkey and Russia to meet Hamas leaders, meanwhile, highlighted emerging differences in the international community over how to deal with the movement (Haaretz).

A new Palestinian Authority (PA) parliament will be sworn in February 18, and moderate Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is expected to be named prime minister (NYT). Hamas has named two other figures to leadership positions (al-Jazeera): hardliner Mahmoud Zahar as head of its parliamentary faction and Abdel Aziz Dweik, a geography professor from the West Bank city of Hebron, as its candidate for parliament speaker. This CFR Background Q&A outlines members of Hamas' leadership.

Meanwhile, tensions between Hamas and former ruling party Fatah remain high. Fatah members, including current PA President Mahmoud Abbas, had initially refused to join Hamas in a government of national unity. But senior Fatah leader Jibreel Rajoub said this week (Daily Star) that Fatah could work with Hamas if the group agreed to "accept the concept of an Israeli and a Palestinian state, accept the agreements the PA has signed with Israel, and endorse the Arab peace initiative." Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman the United States must focus on persuading Hamas to "transform itself" and accept Israel's right to exist. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says Hamas will not enter serious negotiations with Israel until it is convinced there is no other option (IHT).

There is also tremendous concern over who will control the sprawling Palestinian security services (CSMonitor). As president, Abbas has made little headway in reforming the security forces, and a major issue going forward is what Hamas will do to ensure security in the PA. The chaotic state of the Palestinian security services is explained in this CFR Background Q&A.

In one sign of potential change, Hamas' armed wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam, has been collecting and registering weapons from its members in the Gaza Strip (Haaretz). Some experts say this move could signal Hamas' willingness to impose order on its members and potentially extend a current ceasefire with Israel. Still others say it shows only that Hamas is consolidating its own militia as a counterweight to the Fatah-linked security services.

Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer tells cfr.org the United States should find a way to deal with the Hamas government, particularly if it is headed by an independent. And Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki says Abbas should join a unity government with Hamas as a way to keep Fatah relevant in the PA. CSIS fellow Anthony Cordesman offers a security analysis of Hamas' military capabilities, and says the group's election shows the "Israeli-Palestinian war is far from over."

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