Hamas Wins Majority in Palestinian Elections
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris. And we begin the hour with news that stunned the world today, the victory of the Islamist Hamas party in the Palestinian election. Preliminary results give Hamas 76 of 132 seats in parliament, a clear majority, enough to run the government without forging a coalition. The Fatah party, which had governed for years, won just 43 seats.
BLOCK: Today, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said he would still pursue peace with Israel, and he would begin negotiating with Hamas on a new government.
NORRIS: The U.S. has long viewed Hamas as a terrorist group. We'll examine the implications for U.S. Middle East policy later in this half hour.
BLOCK: We'll also hear from a Palestinian legislator and have Israeli reaction. First, to NPR's Eric Westervelt, who's covering reaction among Palestinians in Gaza.
ERIC WESTERVELT: Many Hamas supporters went to bed last night thinking they'd made solid, not dramatic, election day inroads against Fatah. But they woke up today in power. Volunteers at a campaign office in Gaza City today celebrated with Hamas victory chants praising God, resistance, and holy war.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE YELLING CHANTS)
WESTERVELT: Hamas neighborhood organizer Mohammed al-Bayah(ph) says Hamas out-campaigned Fatah on the local and district levels, and he said that the Palestinian people were fed up with fraud and cronyism under Fatah.
MOHAMMED AL: (Through Translator) Our first priority will be rooting out corruption in the Palestinian Authority and bringing those people to justice who stole money that should have gone to the Palestinian people.
WESTERVELT: All day, rumors swirled in Gaza that leaders of Fatah's old guard were scrambling to flee the Gaza Strip, fearing prosecution. Hamas candidate Said Siam won, but it's not clear this new Hamas member of parliament from Gaza City will even be able to travel to Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, where the parliament meets. Several winning Hamas candidates are wanted by Israel, which, along with the U.S. and Europe, classifies Hamas as a terrorist group.
SAID SIAM: (Through Translator) This victory sends a message to Israel, the U.S. and Europe. The Palestinian people have chosen Hamas, despite the threats that the West would cut aid. The people voted for change, to victory for Hamas, which is based on resistance.
WESTERVELT: Some of the steady stream of Siam's supporters arriving in his yard to offer congratulations just couldn't resist firing celebratory shots in the air.
(SOUNDBITE OF GREETINGS FROM SUPPORTERS)
WESTERVELT: Siam says Hamas is open to a coalition government with Fatah, but it's not clear Fatah is interested. And with 76 seats, Hamas doesn't have to share power. Siam reiterated Hamas' usual hard line that it won't talk with Israel unless the Jewish state recognizes "Palestinian rights" and withdraws from land captured in the 1967 War. But Siam and other top Hamas officials urged patience. Discussions within Hamas and with Fatah on power sharing, security and peace talks would take time.
ZIAD ABU AMR: I was expecting strong showing by Hamas, but not a landslide.
WESTERVELT: Ziad Abu Amr won a parliament seat Wednesday as an independent candidate supported by Hamas. He says Israel and the West called the PLO a terrorist organization for years, and now one of its members is the Palestinian president. Abu Amr believes Hamas will now have to follow a similar path and soften its views.
ABU AMR: Perhaps become more political and more pragmatic. The imperatives of politics will have to be taken into account, so much on the expense on the imperatives of ideology. And after this landslide, I think the world is invited to review its position.
WESTERVELT: Across Gaza and the West Bank meantime, many Fatah supporters and losing candidates seemed in a state of political shock. In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and the rest of the Fatah-dominated cabinet resigned. Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat.
SAEB EREKAT: We are under new sky, and there is so much dust in the air. Once the dust settles down, I think we'll start putting the options and weighing the consequences of what had happened.
WESTERVELT: Huge questions remain. Will Hamas' militia be disarmed or brought into the Palestinian security forces? Will members of Fatah's security forces, fearful of losing jobs and privileges, defy Hamas' new political power? And what might any Hamas-Fatah power sharing look like?
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Gaza.
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