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Palestinian Parliamentary Elections 2006

In the 25 January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas won a decisive majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council or Parliament. Of the 132-seat Parliament, Hamas won 74 seats, thereby ending the Fatah party's control of the Palestinian Authority. Fatah managed to win only 45 seats with the remaining 13 seats divided among smaller parties. Voter turnout was high, at 77.7 percent.

In the wake of this election result, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his cabinet resigned. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on 27 January 2006, that he would ask Hamas to form a new government. Ismail Haniyeh, who headed the Hamas list, called for a political partnership to be formed between Hamas and President Abbas. Several leaders of Fatah said that they did not intend to form a coalition with Hamas, and Fatah activists called for President Mahmoud Abbas to resign.

This was Hamas's first participation in parliamentary election and analysts were surprised that they were able to gain a majority. Fatah's inability to provide basic services, numerous corruption scandals in the Palestinian Authority, high unemployment and Hamas's successes in providing services to the poor and other factors were all significant reasons for Hamas's election victory.

President Abbas traveled to Egypt on 31 January 2006 to discuss the future of Palestinian politics with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He planned to later meet with Hamas leaders within the following two weeks to discuss the formation of a new government. Officials close to President Abbas denied reports that he would require Hamas to recognize Israel in order to join the new government. President Abbas's position was only that the new government continue the commitments previously made by the Palestinian Authority. These included the "road map" to peace and the 1993 peace accords.

Israel vowed to not deal with Hamas politically unless the group disarmed and renounced its commitment to the destruction of Israel. Government officials in Israel warned, on 29 January 2006, that the monthly custom revenue transfer to the Palestinian government might be halted. Those revenues, repayed by Israel to the Palestinian Authority, totalled about $50 million a month. The next transfer was due to occur on 1 February 2006, but officials in the Israeli government announced, on 1 February, the transfers would be halted and would instead be held in trust, pending a policy review ordered by acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. On 4 February 2006, Israel decided to release the revenues they had been holding. Israel justified this by saying that they were releasing the revenues because Hamas had not yet joined the Palestinian government but Israel also announced that they would not transfer any revenues to the Palestinian Authority when Hamas joined or formed a new government. With Israel holding the money in trust, the Palestinian Authority's ability to finance the salaries of its employees, which include security forces, would be seriously impaired..

President Bush called the election "a wake-up call to the leadership. Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo. The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find health care."

The White House and State Department maintained that the peace process was not dead but that they would not deal with Hamas until it disavowed its call for the destruction of Israel and ends its support for terrorism.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice commented that a two-state solution "requires a renunciation of violence and turning away from terrorism and accepting the right of Israel to exist and the disarmament of militias."

Members of the European Union also called for Hamas to recognize Israel and to renounce terrorism.

Mahmoud Zahar, one of the leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, said that if Israel retreats to is pre-1967 borders and releases Palestinian prisoners, then Hamas would be willing to grant Israel a long term truce. But Israel reiterated that they will not deal with Hamas unless the organization renounces violence, recognizes Israel, and amend their charter so that it no longer calls for Israel's destruction. On 8 February 2006, Khaled Mashal, Hamas's political leader, echoed Zahar's offer in an interview with the BBC. He said Hamas would not renounce violence, but it would enter into a long term truce with Israel. His conditions were the same ones mentioned by Zahar.

The United States and the European Union announced that Palestinian aid would be in jeopardy with a Hamas-run Palestinian government. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was engaged in diplomatic contacts in an effort to get the rest of the world to tie all their future assistance to Palestine to commitments to peace made by Hamas. This led Ismail Haniyeh, on 28 January 2006, to call the threat of cutting of aid "blackmail," and that Hamas would not give in.

Two days later, on 30 January 2006, Haniyeh softened a bit and asked the Middle East Quartet - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - not to cut off international aid to Palestine. He said that "We confirm to you this income will be used to pay the salaries of employees and fund daily running costs and infrastructure. You can confirm this through a mechanism that can be agreed upon."

Given that the formation of a new Hamas-led government might possibly take months, the United States and the European Union said aid previously committed to the Palestinian Authority would be continued to be delivered to the government of President Abbas.

After Middle East Quartet met in London on 30 January 2006, they announced Palestinian aid would continue if Hamas adheres to the criteria that was set by the Quartet. The criteria were included in a statement made by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The statement said, "All members of the future Palestinian government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap." This has left some breathing room for Hamas, as it does not threaten to immediately cut aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian government. However, decisions about future aid will be made based on the commitment that the new Palestine government has to the principles laid out by the Quartet.

Following this announcement by the Quartet, Hamas leaders called the conditions unfair and that they would endanger the well-being of all Palestinians. Khaled Mashal said that "Hamas is immune to bribery, intimidation and blackmail," and he then called on the Arab nations to increase aid to Palestine, if Western aid is cut off. Syria echoed this call on 31 January 2006, asking fellow Arab countries to compensate for the aid that the Palestinians might lose. Syria says that it intended to submit the proposal to an Arab summit that would take place in March. Hamas was to send a delegation of its officials on a tour of the Arab countries, in an effort to keep money flowing into Palestine

In another bid to keep aid flowing, Hamas leaders also suggested that they might form a government that did not include Hamas members. They might fill the cabinet with technocrats instead of representatives of Hamas. This would allow international aid to still be given to the Palestinian government, and not technically to Hamas.

President Bush again called for Hamas to "recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace" in his State of the Union Address on 31 January 2006. But Hamas rejected this call saying that their "resistance is legitimate."

Hamas leaders met in Cairo, Egypt, for several days at the beginning of February 2006. They were in Cairo to have talks about forming a government. The meeting ended without a prime minister being named, but they were able to reach an agreement with President Abbas that the new Palestinian Legislative Council, or parliament will convene on 16 February 2006. Hamas has also said that they will uphold the agreements that the Palestinian Authority has entered into, at least for the time being.

On 27 February 2006, the European Union agreed to send emergency aid money to the Palestinian Authority, since a Hamas Cabinet had not yet been sworn into power. The aid money equals about $144 million. A good portion will be used to pay the Palestinian Authority's energy bills, and an even larger section will be sent through the UN to pay for health, food, and education. Only about $21 million will be used for government salaries. Israel has said that no money should be sent to the Palestinian Authority. Around the same time, the Iranian government indicated that it will make up for any losses of foreign aid. Hamas has said that Iran has pledged about $250 million to help make up for the $1 billion aid loss from the United States and the European Union. While the United States has cut its funding to the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on 23 February 2006, that the United States will continue to provide humanitarian support to the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian Legislative Council was convened on 17 February 2006. The opening session was held in two locations, Ramallah and Gaza City, due to travel restrictions that the Israeli government placed on some of the legislatures. Hamas has five weeks to form a Cabinet. On 6 March 2006, the Palestinian Legislative Council held its first working session of parliament. The Hamas majority quickly voted to repeal some laws that were put into place by the Fatah dominated outgoing parliament. These laws included measures that gave President Abbas the power to appoint judges to a constitutional court that could rule on the legality of laws passed by the parliament. Hamas declared that these laws gave President Abbas veto power over them and then voted to cancel the measures.

Russia invited Hamas leaders to Moscow for talks in early March of 2006. This was the highest-level foreign visit made by Hamas and the first with a member of the Middle East Quartet. Russian officials hoped to impress upon Hamas that they need to recognize Israel, renounce violence and support the road map to peace. But on the first day of talks Khaled Mashal, who was leading the Hamas delegation, said that Hamas will not recognize Israel, and that the organization was done talking about the issue. He did, however, repeated an earlier statement that Hamas would consider a long term peace if Israel would pull back to their pre-1967 borders, allow Palestinian refugees the right to return, release prisoners, and stop building settlements. Mashal also gave assurances to international aid contributers that the money would be spent to help the Palestinian people and not go into the Hamas budget. Russia was able to get a pledge from Hamas to continue to maintain a cease-fire with Israel, as long as Israel also respects it.

On 06 March 2006, Hamas rejected advice given to them by Al-Qaida's number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri told Hamas to reject any peace deals between the Palestinians and Israel. Hamas leaders said that they will do whatever is in the best interests of the Palestinian people, and that Al-Qaida has a vision of Islam that is different from Hamas's.

On 07 March 2006, Israel's defense minister warned that the Hamas leaders in the Palestinian Parliament would not be immune to targeted strikes. Israel said that the pinpoint killing of extremist leaders has worked well, and that they will not hesitate to use it against Hamas leaders.



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