The future of the Palestinian-Israel peace process perhaps became a little more uncertain as militant Islamic group Hamas trounced the ruling Fateh, a moderate party, in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. Palestinian Authority President and the leader of Fateh, Mahmoud Abbas, urged Hamas to keep the peace talks open, the US and Israel have said that they would not negotiate with a 'terror organization' that espouses violence and whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel. The United Nations and European Union have viewed the results more positively hoping that the government under Hamas could operate 'productively and peacefully'. Hamas leaders have however, to begin with, indicated that they are willing to honor a year-old cease-fire with Israel.
Amidst calls from the international community to disarm Hamas, the leaders of the party have expressed that their primary concern would be to improve the lives of Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in keeping with their long standing experience of operating a network of successful social and charitable organizations. The first test of Hamas' political sagacity would be how smoothly its leaders are able to bring about an orderly transfer of power, which would bring about much needed stability unity to Palestinian politics.
While, Hamas' victory may be unsettling on the peace firmament, more positive aspects of this power shift in Palestinian politics are immediately visible. To begin with Hamas' ascension to the helm of power would force the organization to focus on political expediency of survival rather than on violence and terror. Hamas' leaders realize that many Palestinians do not necessarily accept the organization's militant activities against the Israel, which has only brought them untold miseries as a result of its retaliations; Hamas' good showing in elections is the result of their significant contribution in the social service sector and the fact that it has been perceived not to be tainted by corruption as opposed to Fateh.
While it would be unrealistic to assume that Hamas will lay down arms, a key to the organization's response to peace talks lies with the course of action that Israel charts out in the near future. It must be recognized that Hamas' restraint on militant activities is unsustainable without concomitant actions on the part of Israel. Israel's policy of superimposing unilateralism over bilateral negotiations, building of the West Bank separation wall, economic strangulation of Gaza, and swelling ranks of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons, which strengthened Hamas and propelled it to power, will continue to remain major points of discord between the two governments now. If Hamas agrees to suspend violent attacks and restrains its cadre, together with complying with the rule of law benchmark, the US and Israel should reconsider their position of banning contacts with Hamas and softening their stand calling for its isolation. The EU, which is the main donor to Palestinian reconstruction, could also put pressure on Hamas to consistently follow a political path.
Although is clear that Hamas will not renounce the right of resistance and will maintain its military capacity, as long as the conflict with Israel continues, the integration of Hamas into the Palestinian political system appears to be a positive step in the direction of stabilization and integration of Palestinian society. The prospect of future peace talks, at the moment depends upon whether the militants accept a long term truce and gain the confidence and trust of the international community. A triumphant, strengthened, and legitimized Hamas does give hope that a long-term benefit of their integration into the political process can be expected.