Hamas Win Strengthens Sharon's Heirs

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What impact is the Palestinian election result having in Israel?

Aaron J. Klein: The Israeli government and security establishment has been shocked by the scale of Hamas's victory, because it was expecting the movement to win no more than about one third of the seats. But Israel is for the time being simply going to watch from the sidelines and see how developments play out on the Palestinian side. It's too soon to tell how the institutions on the Palestinian side are going to be reorganized — will Hamas govern alone, or will it share power? And also whether, and how quickly, there will be changes in the leadership of the Palestinian security apparatus, with which Israel has a level of coordination, although not very tight. But the Israeli side is not expecting major changes very soon, and it is interpreting the statements from Hamas about how it is taking very seriously its responsibilities to the Palestinian people as a sign that Hamas will try to behave in a more moderate fashion, at least initially, and to maintain the strategic decision it took a year ago to suspend attacks on Israel.

The biggest impact of the Palestinian result may be on the Israeli elections scheduled for March. Analysts expect to see the Israeli electorate rally around Ehud Olmert and the Kadima party (of stricken Prime Minister Ariel Sharon), in the way that Israelis do when they sense a possible threat from outside. Voters will want to show support for the acting prime minister and for the security establishment, and that should translate into even bigger gains for Kadima. The most recent polls, before Palestinian result, showed Kadima in the lead, winning around 40 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. But after the Hamas win, that could go up to around 50 seats. People sense danger in the Palestinian result, and they want to support the government.