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Thursday, January 26, 2006 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: How Israel and the United States Helped to Bolster Hamas
2006-01-26

Hamas Wins Sweeping Victory in Palestinian Parliamentary Elections

Guests

Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! co-host, New York Daily News columnist

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In the Occupied Territories, unofficial results indicate Hamas has won a sweeping victory in the first Palestinian parliamentary elections in a decade. Israel and the United States have said they would not deal with a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas. We speak with Mouin Rabbani, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group about the surprise result. [includes rush transcript]

In the Occupied Territories, initial results indicate Hamas has won a sweeping victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. Unofficial results show Hamas took almost all of the 16 constituencies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It had particular success in the Jerusalem district, where the group won all four seats allocated for Muslim candidates. Official results are expected later today.

  • Ismail Abu Haniyeh, Hamas leader.

The surprise upset was acknowledged by the Fatah party ahead of the official vote count. The result would not automatically unseat President Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected last year, but he has said he might resign if unable to pursue a peace policy. Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei of Fatah and his cabinet resigned today.

Hamas said Thursday that it intends to begin talks on a coalition as soon as possible, while a senior official from Fatah said it would not join a Hamas-led government.

Speaking on election night, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel could not deal with a Palestinian Authority which included Hamas.

  • Ra’anan Gissin, spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Meanwhile, Washington has not yet commented on the emerging results, but President Bush warned on Wednesday he could not sanction a government led by Hamas in its present form. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack issued a similar warning.

  • Sean McCormack, State Department spokesperson.

Already the U.S. has been accused of meddling in the Palestinian election. On Sunday the Washington Post reported the Bush administration secretly funneled nearly $2 million into public service projects to help improve the standing of Fatah over Hamas. That was more money than any Palestinian party spent on the election.

While the voting on Tuesday went smoothly–with a turnout of about 75 percent — thousands of Palestinians faced difficulty voting in the West Bank because their polling location stood on the other side of Israel’s 400-mile security wall.

  • Mouin Rabbani, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group and a contributing editor of Middle East report. He joins us on the line from Amman where he just returned from Jerusalem.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: This is Hamas leader, Ismail Abu Haniyeh, speaking to Reuters.

ISMAIL ABU HANIYEH: — has become part of the legislative council, and yes, it has a majority in that council.

AMY GOODMAN: The stunning upset was acknowledged by the Fatah Party ahead of the official vote count. The result would not automatically unseat President Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected last year, but he has said he might resign if unable to pursue a peace policy. Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei of Fatah and his cabinet resigned today. Hamas said Thursday, it intends to begin talks on a coalition as soon as possible, while a senior official from Fatah said it would not join a Hamas-led government. Speaking on election night, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel could not deal with a Palestinian Authority which included Hamas. This is Olmert’s spokesperson, Ra’anan Gissin.

RA’ANAN GISSIN: Israel will not negotiate with any group, and that is according to the Oslo Agreement, according to the road map to peace, with any group that continues to espouse and support terrorist activity, that carries the banner of the destruction of the state of Israel, that its covenant calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and the Jewish people. If these organizations, whatever they may be, will change their covenant or end — or disarm themself and become a legitimate political party, we’ll be willing to consider them as partners.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Washington has not yet commented on the emerging results, but President Bush warned Wednesday he could not sanction a government led by Hamas in its present form. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack issued a similar warning.

SEAN McCORMACK: The Palestinian people need to resolve the fundamental contradiction of groups and individuals who want to have one foot in the camp of terror and one foot in the democratic political process. You can’t have that. There needs to be a choice that is made. As for Hamas, we view Hamas as a terrorist organization. We don’t deal with Hamas. And under the current circumstances, I don’t see that changing.

AMY GOODMAN: Already, the U.S. has been accused of meddling in the Palestinian election. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported the Bush administration secretly funneled nearly $2 million into public service projects to help improve the standing of Fatah over Hamas. That was more money than any Palestinian party spent on the election. While the voting on Tuesday went smoothly with a turnout of about 75%, thousands of Palestinians faced difficulty voting in the West Bank, because their polling location stood on the other side of Israel’s 400-mile security wall.

We are joined on the line right now by Mouin Rabbani. He is a senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group and contributing editor of Middle East Report. He joins us from Amman, where he has just returned from Jerusalem. Welcome to Democracy Now!

MOUIN RABBANI: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, can you talk about these — well, what many are calling upset results, surprise results?

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, the first thing I would say is that the official results are not out yet. Yesterday we had exit polls indicating that the dominant Fatah Movement had narrowly won the election, while achieving less than 50%. Now, we’re being told that the Islamist opposition movement, Hamas, has garnered an absolute majority of parliamentary seats. It does seem that Hamas has won the elections, although I’d like to see the official results before, you know, making such explicit conclusions about how the seats are going to be allocated.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But the resignation of the prime minister certainly indicates that Fatah believes that it has lost, and what do you — do you see, the meaning of this vote? Was it more of a protest vote against Fatah, or was it really a marshaling of greater support for Hamas?

MOUIN RABBANI: It was both, and some other things. I think Hamas’s biggest success in this election was that it was able to appeal well beyond its core constituents, Palestinians who endorse both Hamas’s political agenda and its ideology. It was able to position itself as a protest party of choice, thus appealing to a vast number of Palestinians who do not necessarily agree with its political program, but wanted to see the monopoly on the Palestinian political system that’s exercised by the Fatah Movement broken, and that appears to have happened.

There is also, of course, the key issue here, is the Israeli occupation. And I think it’s important to point out that when Palestinians woke up the day after the election, they were as occupied as they were the day before the election took place, because this was not a referendum on the Israeli occupation. But having said that, I think the key thing about this election is that it forms a lynchpin in the reconfiguration of the Palestinian national movement, that has been a long time in coming, especially since the death of the former leader, Yasser Arafat, in the end of 2004.

And now the big question is: Will Hamas choose to lead the movement or will it seek to lead in combination and in coalition with other forces, primarily Fatah? And the indications we have is that Hamas does not feel it’s in a position to monopolize this movement and to lead alone and, I think, will be working very hard to seek to establish a coalitions and power-sharing with other movements.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush has said they won’t deal with Hamas until they withdraw their demand for the destruction of Israel. But I’m looking at a piece, a recent piece in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, which published the official platform for Hamas — which talks about Hamas’s platform. And it says it proved to be more moderate than its either 1988 charter or public statements made by its leaders throughout the ensuing years. The document makes no mention of the principle that’s been Hamas’s raison d’etre since its founding: the destruction of Israel and establishment of Palestinian state on all territory west of the Jordan River in its place. However, the document’s introduction comes out strongly in favor of armed struggle. Your response, Mouin Rabbani?

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, I think Hamas has made a strategic decision to co-exist with a two-state settlement. Whether they will directly participate in achieving such a settlement or not is an unresolved question. But in broader terms, I think these Israeli statements that it won’t deal with Hamas, unless it does this, that and the other — I mean, if you look at the context, they have refused to deal with every Palestinian leader. You know, they refused to deal with Yasser Arafat. The Sharon government refused to deal with Mahmoud Abbas. And I think they’re going to refuse to deal with the next Palestinian government, whether Hamas is in or outside that government. So I think, you know, Hamas’s expected participation in this government will only serve as a pretext for the Israelis to hang on to their position, that they don’t want to deal with the Palestinians as negotiating partners and prefer to continue with their unilateral measures in the Occupied Territories.

JUAN GONZALEZ: This must also be considered a defeat for the Bush administration, given how much support it’s been giving to Fatah since the death of Arafat. Do you think that the revelations on the eve of the election, that the Bush administration was funneling money to back Fatah, had some impact on the vote?

MOUIN RABBANI: I’m sure it did have some impact, although of course, it’s impossible to say how much. But clearly, the main beneficiaries of this apparently covert American support to certain Palestinian parties, I think, the main beneficiaries were the Islamists, because, you know, they could demonstrate through that and through the American statements that Washington would sever relations with the P.A., if Hamas would participate in the government. I think they could basically tell the voters, "You’re being blackmailed. You’re being told to choose either your political preference or your next meal." And I don’t think Palestinians took kindly to those efforts.

AMY GOODMAN: Mouin Rabbani, I want to thank you for being with us, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group, joining us from Amman. He has just returned there from Jerusalem.

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