Hamas' Next Step / In Search of a United Force

Hamas undoubtedly was surprised by its sweeping victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. A close review of the movement's election charter shows its underlying theme is the desire to rid the group's institutions and the mosques of intervention by the Palestinian Authority, and particularly the Palestinian intelligence services. Not for a moment did the Hamas leadership imagine that following the elections it would hold the reins of the Palestinian security mechanisms.

And the first dilemma Hamas will face is how to put together a united Palestinian security force without being in control, at present, of all of the official security mechanisms.

Hamas spokesmen indeed are speaking about the formation of a united military force, but none are willing to assess whether Fatah will agree to join such a force, or whether it will form a fighting opposition - as Hamas was for Fatah during the intifada.

This is a key question, the answer to which will be an indication of Hamas' intentions and ability to manage the Palestinian Authority for a reasonable period of time. When all is said and done, Hamas will be judged on its ability to maintain the stability of the cease-fire and, primarily, to rein in movements like Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

After winning legitimacy from the Palestinian public, Hamas' next objective is to achieve international recognition - a prerequisite for the ability of the movement and the government it establishes - to uphold the economic promises at the heart of its election campaign.

At stake are sums of around 500 million euros from the European Union, and another $150 million from the United States.

Another problem Hamas will have to deal with concerns its government's future relations with the Arab states - particularly Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which constitute the political and economic backbone of Palestine. Hamas, therefore, was very careful not to color its election campaign in a religious hue, but instead chose to promote itself as a nationalist movement. The religious aspect of the movement got little mention in its charter.

In such a manner, Hamas' strategy has been similar to that employed by the Justice and Development Party in power in Turkey. However, when a religious movement assumes the reins of power in an Arab state, even if it be a state on paper only, it inspires grave concerns and fears among the Arab countries, which envisage only the Sudanese, Taliban and Iranian models, rather than that of Turkey.

Talks with Israel is not on the agenda at present - not until the formation of the new government, at least. Hamas' biggest dilemma in this regard concerns how to oppose Israel's unilateral policy and reject talks with Jerusalem at the same time.