He is an expert at plotting attacks against Israel. But now the chain-smoking Hamas military commander is trying to map out a different sort of plan: how to govern the Palestinians. The operative, a veteran of 16 years fighting Israel, met in the West Bank with other Hamas officials last week to celebrate the militant Islamic party's remarkable victory in Palestinian legislative elections and to figure out what in the world to do next. Dozens of meetings like that took place across the West Bank and Gaza Strip and even in Damascus, where Hamas has an office. Hamas leaders--suddenly thrust into the political realm--discussed their new concerns. What are the group's legislative priorities? Should its military commanders assume control of Palestinian security services like the police force? Should Hamas consider negotiations with Israel? "People should realize that we have an essential job: protecting Palestinians from Israeli arrogance and aggression," says the military man, who declined to be named because he is on the run from Israeli authorities. "We want them to recognize the Palestinian people as a partner in this land."
That land was rocked last week by what Palestinians are calling the "earthquake." Hamas, the militant organization identified as a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union, won 76 seats in the 132-seat Palestinian parliament, trouncing the ruling Fatah party, which had dominated Palestinian politics for more than four decades. Fatah Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, who had warned against holding the elections, handed in his resignation as soon as the landslide became apparent. Although Fatah's moderate leader Mahmoud Abbas (popularly known as Abu Mazen) will stay on for now as President, he must find a way to work with a legislature controlled by a party whose commitment to Israel's destruction is a cornerstone of its charter. But before that, the Palestinian people--and observers all over the world--have to readjust to last week's stunning results. "Unprecedented not only in the history of the Palestinian people but in the Arab world," says Ziad Abu Amr, a political scientist at Birzeit University and an independent member of the Palestinian legislature. "This is the first time an Islamic party has won such a landslide. It changes everything."
The result certainly is causing a rethinking in the U.S. and Israel. President George W. Bush, who often talks of his hope that democracy will sweep the Middle East, applauded the fact that Palestinians had spoken at the ballot box, and he said the results were a wake-up call for the Fatah leadership. But he also said the vote did nothing to change the U.S. position that Hamas is a terrorist organization. If it wants to deal with the U.S., he said, Hamas must recognize Israel and renounce violence. "I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform," Bush said.