It is now obvious that Hamas emerges at the great winner in the Palestinian election. Official preliminary results are not expected until early evening, but the broad outlines of the result are already clear.
That Hamas emerged as the winner does not surprise us that experiences the campaign and election day. Their campaign seemed superior in every respect to anything Fatah could offer.
But is must be recognized that the Hamas vote was less a vote for its Islamist social program, or for its refusal to recognize the reality of Israel, than a protest against a Fatah rule seen as inefficient and corrupt. Fatahs inability to secure order or to deliver result in the peace process undoubtedly played in, as did a reaction against the daily injustices of life under occupation.
One must now hope that the Hamas leadership will recognize the true nature of the support that they got. They did not seek support for, and neither did they get it, for an agenda of Islamisation and conflict. Their main slogan in the campaign was reform – not revenge.
There will now have to be formed a new government for the Palestinian authority. It will be the heavy responsibility of President Abbas to assure a government truly in the interest of his country.
There is a clear need for a strong new Prime Minister truly committed to change and reform. The issues are obvious. After years of fiscal mismanagement the Palestinian Authority is near bankruptcy, and it should not expect the international community to bankroll failure for ever. It must also take further decisive step to reform and strengthen the dysfunctional security system, making the dismantling of existing terrorist infrastructures possible.
All eyes are now on Hamas. That it decided to enter the democratic political process is clearly positive, as is the fact that it has declared and kept a cease-fire during the last year. But if Hamas really wants to distance itself from its terrorist past, and assume real responsibility, it must do so more unequivocally than we have seen so far. The burden of proof as concerns its peaceful and democratic intentions is with them.
I would expect the European Union and others to follow this process as closely as possible, respect the democratic choice made, remain engaged and be ready to work with whatever government and whichever individuals that are truly committed to embrace reform and distance themselves from terrorism.
We have dealt before with political forces making a transition from terror and violence to democracy. But we have learnt that we must be firm in insisting that the transition really occurs.
We can not run away from a democratic success - because that is what we have seen in Palestine - because we did not like the result.
But neither can we be indifferent to the result simply because the procedure was impeccable.