Abbas to Consult on Palestinian Government
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
One day after Hamas was declared the decisive winner in the Palestinian Parliamentary elections, Israel and the Palestinians are struggling to come to terms with the new reality in Middle East politics. Hamas will control 76 seats in the 132 member Palestinian legislative council. The stunning victory in Wednesday's election ended four decades of rule by the corruption-plagued Fatah party.
NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas insists that he remains committed to negotiations with Israel and will start immediate consultations to form a new Palestinian government.
In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismael Haniah said Hamas wants a coalition government with Abbas's Fatah movement. Abbas didn't comment, but Fatah leaders said that they don't want to join a Hamas government.
In the hour since the election results were announced, Hamas leaders have been careful not to mention violence or the armed struggle against Israel.
In Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, who is considered a hard liner within the movement, said Hamas could extend the yearlong cease-fire with Israel which he called the quietness.
MAHMOUD AL: We are not playing terrorism or violence. We are under occupation. The Israeli continue their aggression against our people: killing, detention, demolition; and in order to stop these processes we run effective self defense by all means, including using guns. If the Israelis stop their aggression, we will be committed throughout this full (unintelligible).
GRADSTEIN: Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said a Palestinian authority led by Hamas is not a partner in peace. He said Israel will ignore such a government and make it irrelevant.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned that Hamas will receive no assistance from a Bush Administration that has given millions of dollars directly to the Palestinian Authority since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died 14 months ago.
Former U.S. President, Jimmy Carter is the head of an international observer mission for the Palestinian elections. In an interview with NPR he said cutting off financial aid to the Palestinian authority would be a mistake.
JIMMY CARTER: This would only injure the Palestinian people who are already suffering. And if it's impossible within the bounds of U.S. law for instance, to give funds, humanitarian aid directly to the Palestinian authority, I hope that we'll find some alternative way to channel the same funds through other means: United Nations agencies, through refugee funds, through UNESCO funds, and through other means.
GRADSTEIN: Former President Carter also said that Israel will have to deal with Hamas to ensure the security of Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
CARTER: In the near future, every person in the Palestinian security force will be related to Hamas. And they'll be working side by side all over the West Bank in Gaza with the Israeli security personnel. They can't ignore each other permanently. They'll have to deal with each other.
GRADSTEIN: A new poll published in today's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper found that almost half of Israelis think Israel should talk to Hamas while 43 percent were opposed. The poll was taken before the election results were announced.
Israeli intelligence estimates are that Hamas will not launch attacks on Israel at least in the near future. And some Israeli analysts like Uri Dromi, a former director of the Government Press Office, say both Yasser Arafat and the current leader Mahmoud Abbas who he calls by his nickname Abu Mazen, have done little to advance the peace process.
URI DROMI: In a way, I welcome the victory of the Hamas because I think it will clear the picture because up till now we were dealing with you Yasser Arafat or was it double talking. All we were dealing with Abu Mazen who was so impotent that nothing came out of him. I think once we face the Hamas at least we'll know who we're facing.
GRADSTEIN: Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.