Director of Middle East and Gulf Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
Rather than endorsing Hamas' foreign policy objectives, Palestinians were clearly expressing enormous anger at Fatah's corrupt practices, its inability to improve the local economy and the faltering security situation. According to a December poll, 86% of Palestinians believe Fatah is corrupt, 65% do not feel safe and secure, and 80% supported an extension of the cease-fire with Israel.
Still, can a group sworn to Israel's destruction moderate once in office? Certainly discrepancies between the Hamas charter and its campaign platform suggest moderation is possible, as do initial Hamas statements supporting an extension of the current cease-fire with Israel. But Hamas will immediately face grave challenges such as a bankrupt treasury, nervous international donors and, most importantly, a decentralized security force and the fact that groups such as Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs brigades and Iranian-funded Islamic Jihad are well outside its control. How Hamas handles these three key issues will provide the best guide for whether we should expect moderation over time. Certainly Hamas' past performance offers little cause for optimism.
Specialist in democracy and post-conflict reconstruction issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
This is what happens in a democratic system. We've been saying for a long time the Palestinian Authority was rotten through and through. And the people knew it and got rid of them the minute they had the opportunity.
Just before the election, Hamas has been very careful in trying to make conciliatory statements. I think what is going to change, if there is a change in the position of Hamas, is that they will discover that if they do not start the process of negotiation which means recognizing Israel in some form the Israelis are going to make all the decisions and they will find they've painted themselves into a corner. Hamas leaders have been very smart politically so far; that's why they are where they are. The obligations of governing may force Hamas finally to come to grips with reality and abandon this dream that Israel is somehow going to be eliminated and disappear from the face of the earth.
Director of the Executive Committee of the Israel Policy Forum
I think that in some ways it may provide more opportunity than we had before, if the overwhelming majority of Palestinians have more confidence in Hamas. It's better to deal with them as an elected authority because it forces Hamas to become part of the world community of governments and makes them directly responsible for all of the conditions that the Palestinians find themselves in. They have to provide education, health and justice systems. Now they have to be held accountable in a different way than being looked at as insurgents. In some ways that could provide new opportunities. Nobody is in favor of the policies they've been espousing up until now, but we've seen major changes in governments when the belligerent factions in a country take control because they have the confidence of the people. We'd rather deal with them in the open than underground mobilizing against another government that doesn't have the confidence of the people. I hope they continue to use Abu Mazen in a diplomatic way. I think that it's important that we continue to state our position that the terrorist activities that Hamas has embraced and the call for the destruction of Israel is unacceptable, but we should not lose sight of the fact that peace is the most important thing we should be seeking for all people in that region. This may give us, in a strange way, a new opportunity to reach that goal. It may take time and patience, but it's like Nixon visiting Khrushchev.