- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

JERUSALEM — Hamas’ shocking election victory is likely to radically alter the course of Israel’s own election at the end of March, as an outraged right wing flexes its muscles and the centrist government plots its response.

As Palestinian officials announced the results, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened top-level talks with senior political and defense officials to formulate how to manage the crisis.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, among those at the emergency powwow, earlier urged the European Union, the Palestinians’ biggest aid donor, to speak out against the creation of a Palestinian “government of terror.”

“It is up to the European Union to speak out clearly and unequivocally and clarify that there will not be any European understanding shown towards a process which would mean the establishment of a government of terror,” he said.

Mr. Olmert, who heads the newly formed centrist Kadima party, is eager to define the permanent borders of the State of Israel and even make further territorial concessions in the West Bank. He faces a critical challenge, which could have a dramatic effect on his party’s hitherto positive ratings in the polls.

Any perceived leniency toward Hamas could play directly into the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish leader of the right-wing Likud Party, who last year warned that Israel’s pullout from Gaza was a prize for Hamas violence.

But intransigence toward a Hamas-led government would likely bring about international pressure on Israel to comply with earlier commitments reached with the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas’ victory prompted a flurry of negative reactions from across the political spectrum in Israel, with the right wing heaping scorn on the government for failing to prevent the Islamists from contesting the polls.

The vote has created “the State of Hamasistan just 1,000 meters away from the citizens of Israel,” army radio quoted Mr. Netanyahu as saying.

Yuval Steinitz, Likud member of parliament and head of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defense, likened the Hamas victory to “an earthquake” and a “tragic defeat for Israel in the war against terrorism.”

Ultranationalist lawmaker Efi Eitam called on Israel’s domestic spy agency Shin Bet to kill each and every Hamas lawmaker.

“We must turn Hamas’ parliamentary list into a hit list for the Shin Bet,” he told army radio.

Israeli forces have assassinated dozens of Hamas leaders in recent years.

Even on the left, Labor Chairman Amir Peretz insisted he had “no intention” of conducting negotiations with Hamas as long as it was dedicated to Israel’s destruction, despite his running an election campaign urging peace efforts.

“The Palestinians have given their support to extremist elements and it is up to the government to take the necessary action to ensure [Israel’s] security,” he said.

Elder statesman Shimon Peres, Mr. Olmert’s No. 2 in Kadima, cast doubt over Hamas’ ability to govern effectively given its international pariah status.

“Hamas will not be able to control the Palestinian Authority and pay the salaries [of more than 100,000 civil servants] without international aid, which will apparently cease,” he told army radio.

The Palestinian elections of 1996, which were not contested by Hamas, were calm on the ground as on Wednesday.

But immediately afterward, Hamas began a series of devastating attacks, drastically weakening the Labor-led government of Mr. Peres, who was prime minister, and paving the way for Mr. Netanyahu’s election.

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