RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – Israel ruled out talks and the vanquished Fatah rejected a joint government with Hamas after the Islamic movement’s sweeping victory in Palestinian elections, in what could be just the first steps in isolating the incoming rulers and freezing Mideast peace initiatives.
The U.S. and European nations declared Thursday that Hamas could not form a legitimate government unless it drops its demand to destroy Israel and renounces violence.
Israel went a predictable step further. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a statement saying, “The state of Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian administration if even part of it is an armed terrorist organization calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.”
U.S. President George W. Bush said, “If your platform is the destruction of Israel, it means you’re not a partner in peace, and we’re interested in peace.” Similar statements came from other parts of the world.
Fatah, turned out of office by Palestinians angry over its corrupt and inefficient government, offered no help to Hamas, catapulted into leadership after its first-ever foray into parliamentary politics.
Fatah leaders decided late Thursday not to enter a joint government with Hamas. By the numbers, Hamas does not need Fatah, it won 76 of the 132 seats in parliament, a clear majority. Fatah, the undisputed ruler of Palestinian politics for four decades, got only 43.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia of Fatah and his Cabinet resigned to make room for a Hamas government. Thousands of angry Fatah supporters marched in Gaza City early Friday, firing rifles in the air and demanding that Fatah leaders resign, while backing their decision to stay out of a Hamas government.
A relatively minor incident marred an otherwise peaceful political revolution. A large crowd of Hamas supporters briefly clashed with Fatah loyalists outside the Palestinian parliament in the West Bank city of Ramallah, with both sides throwing stones after Fatah activists pulled a Hamas flag from the building.
Hamas leaders immediately took to the airwaves to send out a moderate message. “Don’t be afraid,” Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, told the BBC.
At a victory news conference late Thursday, however, Haniyeh said Hamas will “complete the liberation of other parts of Palestine.” He did not say which territories he was referring to or how he would go about it.
Hamas ideology does not recognize the presence of a Jewish state in an Islamic Middle East. In recent years, some Hamas leaders have grudgingly accepted the idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, as long as it is understood to be only a stage toward freeing all of Palestine, including Israel.
Abbas said he remained committed to peace talks and suggested they be conducted through the Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group of Palestinian organizations that he also heads, instead of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
“I am committed to implementing the program on which you elected me a year ago,” he said in a televised speech. “It is a program based on negotiations and peaceful settlement with Israel.”
The Islamic group reached out to Abbas to work out a partnership, Haniyeh said, adding that he did not expect the veteran Fatah leader to resign.
“The relationship between us and Abu Mazen (Abbas) is based on mutual respect, despite differences … and we are not in a fight or confrontation with him,” he said.
Palestinians across the Gaza Strip and West Bank greeted the election results with joy, setting off fireworks and firing rifles in the air.
Hamas campaigned mainly on cleaning up the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority, downplaying the conflict with Israel, and Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said Thursday that Hamas planned to completely overhaul the government.
“We are going to change every aspect, as regards the economy, as regards industry, as regards agriculture, as regards social aid, as regards health, administration, education,” he said.
Some experts believed the group’s victory would force it to moderate. Others feared it would embolden Hamas to remake Palestinian life in keeping with its strict interpretation of Islam.
“We don’t want the Palestinian people and cause to be isolated. We don’t want a theocracy,” said independent lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi.
The rise of Hamas was certain to be a key issue in Israel’s March 28 election. “Today, Hamastan was formed, a representative of Iran and in the image of the Taliban,” said Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the hawkish Likud Party, hoping to turn the Hamas election win into one of his own.
The Hamas victory virtually ruled out a resumption of long-stalled peace efforts, and could push Israel to take further unilateral moves to set its permanent borders, following last year’s Gaza pullout.
It also could jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign donations to the perpetually cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.
Despite the rhetoric, it will be almost impossible for Israel and the Palestinians to completely sever ties. Much of their infrastructure, including water and electricity networks, is intertwined, and the vast majority of Palestinian imports pass through Israeli-controlled borders.
“Hamas can’t carry out its policy without dealing with these vital issues, and without dealing with Israel,” said Talal Okal, a political analyst in Gaza.