We learned in the last U.S. presidential election that one has to tiptoe carefully through exit polls, which are often wrong and distracting, but this news out of the Palestinian election rings true to me. If anything, the Palestinians may even perform better than figures being released because of the cohesiveness of their party list.
Some exit polls are showing that Hamas placed a close 2nd, behind Fatah, in the election — garnering about 40% of the popular vote.
The tension is that while few in “official corridors” of Israeli government would say this publicly, many of them privately told TWN that Israel expected and “could deal” with Hamas at 30%. One important Labor Party official told my colleagues and me though that one vote for Hamas beyond 30% and “all bets were off.”
The question though is what happens when a public votes democratically for a group like Hamas? My view is that one hopes Hamas learns to play in a heterodox political order and matures beyond its commitment to violence. Most serious Israeli officials believe that that is happening inside Hamas and say that the threat is no longer Hamas — but rather the lesser-organized, self-initiating jihadist terrorists that are tougher for all parties to control.
So, 40% is certainly not 30% — but the result was achieved democratically.
Secretary of State Rice is leaving for London on Sunday, returning on Tuesday afternoon — just in time for the President’s State of the Union address.
TWN has a ‘hunch’ that there will be some discussion with the Brits of how to move the ball forward in the Israel-Palestine situation and to manage the electoral outcome in Palestine as well as manage matters during the lead up to Israel’s March elections.
Despite Ivo Daalder’s interesting critique of Secretary Rice’s diplomacy that just appeared in Dutch in the NRC Handelsblad, I actually see that she has pulled off quite a number of successes, some of them low-hanging fruit, but nonetheless many are in the positive column.
But my sense is that she has “a plan” on Palestine and final status negotiations that she is not disclosing. Her moves are calculated and appear as if on her own personal road map. She’s putting more time into the Israel-Palestine problem than the media seem to be aware of or acknowledging — and the way she is working in my view is designed to keep Cheney’s thugs from undermining her.
More later. Stay tuned.
— Steve Clemons
UPDATE: Huge news is breaking. The Fatah Party has announced that it has calculated that Hamas has won a majority of the 132 seats being contested.
The Palestinian cabinet has resigned and has given instructions to Hamas to form a new government.
To some degree, the formation of the Kadima Party in Israel crippled Fatah and empowered Hamas, not because Ariel Sharon and his hard-line on establishing what he considered would be Israel’s permanent border radicalized many Palestinian voeters but because it compelled Palestinian President Abbas to begin shaking up his own party, working behind the scenes to generate semi-rival lists and splinter groups. This gave Hamas the ability to win more seats than its rival, even though Fatah may have won a greater percentage of the popular vote.
Gut instinct leads me to believe that many Israelis will now tilt toward the right, but much depends on the first moves made by Hamas. The new leaders of the Palestinian government have seven weeks to reinvent themselves or Israeli voters may feel compelled — sadly — to entrench themselves with the far right again.
— Steve Clemons