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Hamas Puts Mideast, and Self, at Crossroads

Prepared by: cfr.org editorial staff
January 27, 2006

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The Islamic group Hamas' stunning electoral victory prompted Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and his entire cabinet to quit their posts and call for Hamas to form a new government. Now Hamas faces a dilemma: Will it continue the moderating trend that led it to take part in the elections in the first place, or fracture under the pressure of living up to internationally expected norms of governance?

Writing in Foreign Affairs, which offers a sneak peek of its next edition here, Israeli General Michael Herzog sees little likelihood of Hamas changing its stripes. But CFR Fellow Henry Siegman, speaking to cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman, says the unexpected position Hamas finds itself in may force it to abandon its radical ways.

David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy warns in Newsday that granting Hamas legitimacy before it commits to nonviolence would undermine Palestinian moderates. The Wall Street Journal says the win gives Hamas a chance to show it has an agenda beyond terror. One way or another, the regional and international implications of the results are enormous, as explained in this CFR Background Q&A by cfr.org's Esther Pan.

For Washington, the Hamas victory puts the Bush administration in an awkward place between its two biggest priorities: spreading democracy and fighting terrorism (BBC). President Bush defended his emphasis on democracy-building and reiterated that the United States will not deal with Hamas while it strives for the destruction of Israel (NY Times). Europe is likely to break with the United States and deal with Hamas, as Jonathan Steele urges in the Guardian.

World leaders called for Hamas to disarm (CNN) as the Christian Science Monitor asks if democracy is empowering Islamists. The Guardian says the Hamas victory, while full of risks, could bring new possibilities for peace in the Middle East. Ben Fishman and Mohammad Yaghi of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy offer a brief on how to judge the election results.

As for Fatah, the once unassailable ruling party and successor to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the result is a humiliation. President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah's standard bearer, in now, in effect, in opposition. Fawaz Turki writes in Arab News that the party has been doomed for decades by Yasir Arafat’s failure to crack down on corruption in its ranks. Arafat and Abbas also both failed to reform the Palestinian security forces, explained in this CFR Background Q&A, which Haaretz calls the first step toward establishing security in the beleaguered PA.

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