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Hamas victory comes as little surprise

Hamas supporters celebrate their electoral win Keystone

Palestinian and Israeli groups in Switzerland say the victory of radical Islamic group, Hamas, in the Palestinian elections, was to be expected.

This content was published on January 26, 2006 - 17:04

Both sides said Hamas's strong showing over the ruling Fatah movement presented an opportunity for change, but could also complicate efforts towards peace.

Unofficial results showed that Hamas was the clear winner in Wednesday's parliamentary elections – the first to be held in ten years.

Admitting electoral defeat, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei of Fatah tendered his resignation on Thursday.

Fatah officials have said they will not serve in a Hamas government and would rather go into opposition.

The Swiss foreign ministry welcomed the smooth running of the elections and in a statement on Thursday evening called on all parties to renounce violence and respect the right of law.

The ministry described the result as having "groundbreaking meaning" and expressed the hope that the future Palestinian cabinet would pursue policies that accommodated the interests of all Palestinians.

Expected victory

The result completely alters the political landscape, which for decades was dominated by Fatah – the party founded by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"I expected the conservative camp [Hamas] to win," Ahmed Benani, the head of the International Observatory for Palestinian Affairs told swissinfo.

"After the disastrous performance of the Palestinian Authority and its failure to bring about peace it was logical that people would identify with a powerful social and religious movement and bring it to power," said the Lausanne-based political analyst.

There was no surprise either on the part of Yves Kugelmann, the editor of Swiss Jewish weekly newspaper Tachles. Although the result was uncomfortable for Israel, the country would have to deal with it, he said.

"The Israeli side cannot ignore the result. The Palestinians have voted in democratic elections and elected Hamas, and not because it's a terrorist organisation. I think observers and the international community must take this result seriously."

Transformation

Swiss commentators said Hamas's victory offered it an opportunity to transform itself from a military organisation to a political force pursuing peace.

A Swiss expert on Middle East politics, Victor Kocher, said that Hamas could enhance its credibility by ruling out attacks on civilians.

"I don't think Hamas will throw down its arms, but it has in the past... restricted itself to Israeli military targets. I would see problems for the Europeans and Americans, if they continue to ask more of them."

Benani said that, in the minds of Palestinians, Hamas had already shed its violent past and had redefined itself as a respectable institution.

Kugelmann was also optimistic that Hamas would renounce violence towards Israel and instead pursue diplomacy.

"I hope - although I don't want to appear naive - that Hamas will transform itself because now it is no longer in opposition," he told swissinfo.

Observers said that in the light of Hamas's new legitimacy Israel would have to reconsider its insistence that it would not negotiate with the organisation.

President of the Swiss-Palestinian Society, Daniel Vischer, went further saying that the Hamas win would put pressure on the Israeli government to make concessions to the Palestinians.

The Israeli government now headed by Ehud Olmert had recognised that the creation of a separate Palestinian state was the only way to guarantee Israel's future, Vischer said.

swissinfo

Key facts

Election results:
Hamas won 76 seats in the 132-member parliament.
The Fatah Party won 43 seats.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP, won three seats.
Badil, a coalition of small PLO factions, won two seats.
Independent Palestine, a party headed by human rights campaigner Mustafa Bargouti, got two seats.
The Third Way, a party led by former Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, won two seats.
Four independent candidates, including three backed by Hamas, were also elected.

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In brief

The Swiss foreign ministry says that while Hamas has never been banned in Switzerland, the country monitors individuals who break the law, and that includes anyone engaged in terrorist activity.

It says that once in government Hamas must accept the basic principles laid out under the terms of the Oslo peace accords.

Switzerland welcomes the declaration by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that members of Hamas will only be allowed to join the Palestinian government if they accept the Oslo accords with Israel.

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