Israeli Officials Pleased After Hamas Loses Palestinian Municipal Elections

The results of local elections in the West Bank suggest that mainstream support for Hamas and kindred groups like Islamic Jihad may not be as widespread among Palestinians as Israel and the West fear. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah factions took 51 of 104 municipalities, and Hamas lagged with 13, according to results released over the weekend. The other municipalities were split among smaller and independent factions. Hamas blamed Israeli arrest sweeps in the West Bank which whittled down its list of candidates, but the charge was not echoed by Abbas, who praised the local polls as a fair reflection of the Palestinian mood.

Another indicator was a finding by the well-regarded Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research that, while 84 percent of Palestinians view Israel’s recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a triumph for the violence of Hamas and other terrorist groups, 62 percent are opposed to continued attacks from the territory.

Israel’s justice minister expressed hope that mainstream Palestinians’ appreciation of the relative quiet will translate into a desire for permanent stability as a democratic state.

“They cannot create a situation where Hamas uses the democratic process to take control,” Tzipi Livni told Israel Radio. “It seems that this is being understood.”

Israel appears to be taking a wait-and-see attitude on Hamas, the dominant Palestinian terrorist group.

The key question is whether the Palestinian Authority will go ahead with a plan to allow Hamas to run in parliamentary elections in January. Israel has hinted this could kill off the peace process.

“We have made it clear that Israel sees danger from the participation and presence of Hamas in the elections. This step is contrary to the road map and the understandings with the Palestinians,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet on Sunday.

“We have said this participation in the elections can only happen after Hamas renounces terror, dismantles its weapons and weapon making facilities and give up its call for Israel’s destruction.”

Israel received a boost from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who described Hamas as a direct threat to the prospects of the Palestinian Authority.

“Hamas is a terror organization and it has to be disbanded, both for the sake of peace and security in the Middle East and for the sake of the proper functioning of the Palestinian Authority,” she said in a speech last Friday.

Abbas has consistently ducked these demands. When Israel answered Hamas rocket salvoes from Gaza with air and artillery strikes last week, he devoted much of his rhetoric instead to condemning the Israeli “provocation.”

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