The Hamas Earthquake

Hamas’s crushing defeat of Fatah in this week’s elections brings the Palestinian people to a crossroads. An Islamist political party that previously abstained from national politics and rejects Fatah’s policy of negotiations with Israel, is now in charge in Palestine.

Hamas won 76 of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, and can count on support from four independent deputies. Overall, that’s 60% of the seats in Parliament, won in nearly every district in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas entered electoral politics only recently, but its massive victory was preceded by wide success in municipal elections. Hamas’s political moment has come.

Under Palestinian law, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, must now ask Hamas to form a new government. For their part, Fatah officials seem unwilling to join a Hamas-led government. Although Hamas has said that it would seek such a coalition, Fatah’s humiliating defeat has left it with little credibility as a governing partner.

So far, Fatah’s senior leaders have declared that they will be a loyal opposition in Parliament, leaving governmental responsibility to Hamas. Instead, they will have to focus on rebuilding and reenergizing Fatah.