Hamas set for win as Qureia quits
The radical Islamist movement Hamas looked set on Thursday for a stunning victory over Fatah in the Palestinian election, plunging the stalled Middle East peace process into further turmoil.
Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia announced he would submit his resignation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and said Hamas should form the new government.
Senior officials from Fatah, the movement that has dominated Palestinian politics for years, acknowledged that they had been beaten into second place by Hamas, which was contesting its first parliamentary election.
A source in the central elections commission confirmed that, with nearly all the votes counted, Hamas had a clear lead over Fatah.
The official result was not due until 7pm local time, but Hamas was confident it would have an absolute majority in the 132-seat Parliament.
Israel has warned it would not do business with a group that still advocates the use of violence and refuses to recognise the Jewish state’s right to exist.
United States President George Bush also cold-shouldered Hamas, reaffirming its status in Washington’s eyes as a terrorist organisation.
Exit polls released after voting ended on Wednesday had forecast that while Hamas would deprive Fatah of the clear majority that it has enjoyed since the Parliament was first elected a decade ago, it would still only come second.
By Thursday, however, Fatah conceded that the result would be even worse.
“Hamas has beaten Fatah in the elections,” said one senior official who stood for election to the Ramallah-based Parliament.
Another candidate and senior member of the Fatah campaign agreed Hamas had won.
“They have won more seats than us in the legislative council,” he said.
Anticipating the result, Qureia said he was quitting immediately.
“I am going to present my resignation to Abu Mazen [Abbas] and Hamas should form the [new] government,” he told journalists. “President Abbas must ask Hamas to form the new government.”
“We must respect the choice of the people, and the party which has obtained a majority should form the new government,” he added.
Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said the movement had secured an absolute majority and won at least 75 seats.
“Hamas has registered a considerable victory. Countries in the region and the international community must respect our people’s choice, which is the result of democracy,” the group’s chief candidate, Ismail Haniya, said.
Asked about Hamas’s participation in the Palestinian government if the group’s victory is confirmed, Haniya remained elusive, limiting his comments to talk of “political partnership”.
“In the light of these first results, we will consult President Abu Mazen and the Fatah brothers on the type of political partnership,” he said.
As votes were counted late on Wednesday, Abbas said his people had opened a new chapter in their troubled history and called for international assistance to revive stalled peace talks.
“We have embarked on a new era, and we need the international community’s help so that we can return to the negotiations on a final peace agreement with Israel,” Abbas said.
But Israel’s acting leader, Ehud Olmert, implied that prospect was remote.
“Israel cannot allow Hamas to become part of the Palestinian Authority in its current form,” he said.
The charter of Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel and the group, responsible for dozens of suicide bombings over the past five years, has vowed not to disarm after entering Parliament.
Hamas has sought to cash in on disillusionment with Fatah over the stalled peace process, corruption and by claiming its fighters forced Israel to pull out of the Gaza Strip last summer.
Bush made clear in a Wall Street Journal interview that the US would continue to blacklist Hamas, regardless of the result.
“A political party, in order to be viable, is one that professes peace, in my judgement, in order that it will keep the peace,” Bush said. “And so you’re getting a sense of how I’m going to deal with Hamas if they end up in positions of responsibility. And the answer is, not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you.”
The European Union said it was ready to cooperate with any future Palestinian government as long as it intends to pursue a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict.
“We count on cooperating with a Palestinian government, whatever it may be, as long as it is determined to pursue its aims in a peaceful way,” EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.—AFP