The world was surprised by this morning’s news that the Palestinian Authority elections would likely deliver an absolute majority of 132 legislative seats to the terrorist group Hamas, and with it the right to form a government. Much of the surprise is fueled by the failure of both pre-election polls and exit polls to predict the magnitude of the Hamas victory. We have known for a long time that individuals are likely to give a false indication of how they voted (or how they intend to vote) when they feel that the poll-takers, or the agencies they represent (news organizations and academic institutions) hold an opposite opinion. This has certainly been part of the reason why polls in the US have consistently understated the support for President Bush and why they did so in measuring Hamas’ support among Palestinians.
Beyond that, the results should not be surprising given the incredible degree of corruption within the ruling Fatah Party. While Palestinians were willing to forgive Yassar Arafat for his greed (he amassed billions of dollars in personal wealth by taking it from the mouths of his people), they accorded Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies no such deference. They quite rightly expected that the ruling party mend its ways; but used as it was to cronyism and graft, it could not. So, Palestinians voted for Hamas.
Ironically, this may not be such a bad result in the end. While it will be difficult for Israel and the US to deal with the new Palestinian government, and impossible to do so openly or directly, Hamas can do what Fatah could not – make a peace deal. Just as only Sharon could uproot the settlers and Nixon could make the opening to China, only Hamas can offer a real peace deal. And if they don’t? Well, the government is now hostage. Since the government and Hamas are now the same, it has become an open target for Israeli, and perhaps even US, action (military or otherwise). Thus, Hamas is strangely more vulnerable than before.