Leading article: This is the voice of the Palestinian people

Share

Hamas's stunning victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections opens up a new era in the history of the Middle East. Though Hamas was always expected to do well, few anticipated that it would emerge as the dominant force in Palestinian politics. And no one predicted that the hegemony of the Fatah party would be so comprehensively overturned. Hamas itself hinted throughout the campaign that it would be willing to serve as a junior partner in a Fatah-led coalition. But winning a solid majority of 76 parliamentary seats means that Hamas is now in a position to form a government on its own. Whether it expected it or not, Hamas finds that power has been thrust into its hands.

There can be no doubt over the legitimacy of the Hamas victory. An impressive 78 per cent of registered Palestinian voters turned out. Impartial election observers vouched for the integrity of the poll. There was little violence and no allegations of fraud. The world has long demanded democracy from the Palestinians. Now they have it. Indeed, that the Palestinian Authority was able to organise such a successful election under conditions of military occupation by Israel makes this an especially impressive feat.

What lies behind the Hamas victory is clear. The party was able to capitalise on huge popular discontent with the corrupt Fatah government. But Hamas was also successful because it offered the Palestinian people a vision of a more dignified future. The group's record of providing local educational and health programmes to poor Palestinians was the root of its popularity. The only genuine surprise about the result was the final scale of the Hamas victory.

But the emergence of Hamas does raise some profoundly difficult questions about the prospects for peace in the region. Everyone wants to know if Hamas will change its founding charter to recognise the right of Israel to exist. Will it call an end to its suicide bombing campaign as part of the price of exercising political power? Or will its leaders drag the Palestinian people into painful international isolation by sticking to their hard-line founding principles? The answers to these questions will determine whether Israel decides to deal with the Palestinian Authority, and whether the US and the European Union continue to send aid. The fate of this region now hinges, to a large extent, on what route Hamas decides to go down.

But Hamas is likely to postpone any major decisions about its future until it has cleared out corrupt Fatah officials and consolidated its position in government. And Israel's response to this new reality will be unclear until it has held its elections in March. This means that the peace process and all questions about the "road-map" are likely to be on the back burner for several months. The best way for the rest of the world to further the prospects of peace at this time is to encourage a period of stability. The Quartet - the mediating group of powers made up of Russia, the UN, the EU and the US - will meet early next week to discuss the implications of this result. So too, separately, will EU foreign ministers. A period of reflection from all would be best.

We, naturally, hope that Hamas will find the pressures to go fully down the political route irresistible. And there are encouraging signs that this is already happening. But we understand the fears of those who regard this result as dangerous, both for the Palestinians and the Israelis. Yet, in the end, the mixed feelings of the rest of the world about the result this election has delivered are irrelevant. The democratic voice of the Palestinian people has been heard. And we must now deal with the new reality.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bill Cosby dismisses the allegations that have demolished his lovable TV persona as ‘innuendos’  

Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

Rupert Cornwell
UK Border Control  

Do you think I'm feckless? I worked for two years in the Netherlands

David Ryan
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin