Meaning of a Hamas Victory in Palestinian Elections

Renee Montagne talks to Robert Malley, Middle East program director at International Crisis Group, about what the victory of the Islamic movement Hamas means for peace negotiations and relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Joining me now from Ramala is Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group, which has just issued a report on the entry of Hamas into the political arena. Hello.

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (Middle East and North Africa Program Director, International Crisis Group): Hello.

MONTAGNE: This seems, this big win seems to have been a surprise to all around. Was there anything Israel or the United States could've done earlier to keep Hamas off the ballot?

Mr. MALLEY: To keep them off the ballot, I think, would've been extremely difficult. I mean, we see how popular they are, and we know that President Abbas' strategy from the outset was to bring them in. But certainly, there's a lot that many people could've done to limit the size of their victory, and, in fact, not have them emerge as victorious as they have today.

MONTAGNE: And what would've been the things they could've done?

Mr. MALLEY: Well, there's so much that could've been done to strengthen their knot with Abbas' hand, and to his hand in the Palestine authority when it comes to the peace, diplomacy, economic issues. Since clearly, there's blame to go around, and we're at that stage now where among Palestinians, blame is going around. And part of it is directed at the U.S., part at Israel, and much of it at the Palestinians themselves.

MONTAGNE: Has Hamas done anything in the last year or so that would give a hint about it might now govern?

Mr. MALLEY: Yes, although, I'm not sure that even Hamas expected this victory, which has come as a surprise. And, I think, for Hamas, it's quite an uncomfortable victory, because they are not quite prepared to govern, and certainly not to govern alone. They would like to be in charge of social affairs, of trying to help transform Palestine to Arab, and turn it into something more to their liking.

They would like to take a back seat when it comes to issues such as dealing with Israel, because that's antithetical to their worldview at this point. So, they would've liked to let the Palestinian authority, non-Hamas members deal with Israel, perhaps deal with the U.S., while they could continue their long-term project, which is to transform the fundamental basis of Palestinian society. They now have a bigger challenge, because their victory gives them much greater responsibility.

MONTAGNE: Is there any expectation that Hamas will now renounce violence, and recognize Israel's right to exist?

Mr. MALLEY: No. Number one, they have (unintelligible) over the last several months to the ceasefire better than other Palestinian organization. In fact, far better than what used to be the dominant Tratta(ph) organization. And I, I think we could expect them to continue that, because now they have a greater stake in showing that they can provide calm and normalcy to the Palestinian people. But they're not about to execute a ideological revolution. This is a movement that has deep roots. ..TEXT: It's a movement that has a long view. It moves, but it moves extremely slowly, and it's not about to either recognize Israel, or formally renounce violence, though the question is whether they will, in fact, continue to maintain quiet, the cease fire. And there's indication at this point that certainly would seem to be their intention.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. MALLEY: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Robert Malley served on the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration, and is now with the International Crisis Group. He joined us on the line from Ramala.

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