Following the events of June 14, 2007, and the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, a number of questions remain unanswered so far. What are the objectives of Hamas? Is it its intention to establish a so-called caliphate system in the Strip after it has been separated from the West Bank and East Jerusalem? And what is Hamas' own assessment of the situation?
And, perhaps of more urgency, what are the options that present themselves in the wake of these recent developments?
As a Palestinian academic and economist, I would like to first place the events in their proper perspective. What is referred to as "the Hamas government" was not given an opportunity to exercise its rights or to play a role in the government. In democratic systems, it is common practice for the passage of authority to take place through the ballot box - which is normally the translation of the people's wishes and preferences. And the power is transferred to the victorious party to permit it to exercise its prerogatives and to implement the platform on which it ran in the elections. The Coalition of Reform and Change1 won with a 60% majority in fair and transparent elections. Hamas expected that this would provide its government with the necessary clout to implement its agenda. At the very least, it expected President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to empower it to exercise control over the security, the media and the judiciary - demands that he, as prime minister, had made of the late President Yasser Arafat.
This did not happen. Instead, the losing party [Fateh] chose to throw spanners in the works. Abbas did not hand over the reins of power to Hamas, but effectively divested Hamas of any control over three major areas: the security apparatuses, the executive and the media. In my view, this constitutes a coup against Palestinian legitimacy such as it emanates from the ballot box and the people's will.
Where Do We Go from Here?

In the aftermath of the Gaza events, Abbas embarked on a series of steps and issued a number of decrees. Accordingly, an emergency government was formed that excludes any Hamas members. Some observers have questioned the legality of these steps, in particular the annulment of certain clauses of the Basic Law by the president, since no one is above the law, including the president. Nevertheless, irrespective of the legality of those measures, they resulted in practice in the existence of two governments in the Palestinian territories:
a) The national unity government that conducts all its affairs in accordance with the law; its seat is Gaza, where it has total control;2 and
b) The emergency government, which operates according to a decree from Abbas and enjoys the support of Israel, the U.S. and the international community.
What lies in store for Gaza now? And, on a still wider level, for the West Bank and the Palestinian question? The fact of the matter is that Gaza and the rest of the Palestinian territories, since the legislative elections with the Hamas win and the formation of the national unity government, have been, and still are, under a tight siege:
* The whole West Bank and Gaza have been under a complete and unjustified economic boycott;
* The crossings are sealed, except in special cases, and neither the seaport nor the airport are operational; and
* The crossings and checkpoints continue to be a humiliating experience for the population because of the stringent measures they have to go through every time.
In the case of Gaza, its inhabitants are rid of the lawlessness that was plaguing them; they are now enjoying security and the rule of law. As for the other matters pertaining to the economic situation, the salaries and the border crossings, nothing has changed. It is not as if we were enjoying good living conditions and they got worse; the conditions were bad to start with.

Bases for Future Scenarios

* The national unity government and Hamas have declared that what happened in Gaza was strictly security management and not a political move. It upholds Palestinian legitimacy and the constitution, and stresses the unity of Palestinian society and lands, and rejects the separation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Gaza. It does not accept, nor does it seek, to set up an emirate, a caliphate or an Islamic state in Gaza. It is the conviction of Hamas that Gaza is not suited for that.
* Hamas has called, and continues to call, for dialogue because the Palestinian people do not have any other recourse but dialogue for extricating themselves from the current crisis.
* Hamas will not accept the separation from the West Bank whereby the West Bank will be joined in a confederation or federation with Jordan, and Gaza will be annexed to Egypt or will have self-rule under Egyptian auspices.
* Hamas is aware that such an option will spell the liquidation of the Palestinian question, and I do not believe there is a single honest nationalist - whether Hamas or Fateh - who would accept that.
* I do not see that Israel is ready to give Abbas a state in the West Bank. Israel does not believe in the existence of a Palestinian partner - Abbas or Haniyeh, Fateh or Hamas - Israel has a clear agenda - the domination of the land - and it has the full backing of America.

An Analysis of the Different Scenarios

1) Egypt: Egypt views Gaza as the hinterland for Egyptian national security, and this stance is linked to a number of considerations: Israeli and American pressure; the internal situation and the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood; and national security and border unrest. Perhaps the predominating inclination of the Egyptian position would be to call the Palestinians to dialogue and to contain what happened in Gaza in order not to create a new reality of uncertain consequences. Conceivably, Egypt would not object to a confederation with Jordan and self-rule in Gaza led by the present government.

2) Jordan: Jordan has ambitions for the West Bank to become part of a confederation with it - although not many Jordanians are in favor of a confederation, and it is my belief that few in the West Bank would be pushing for that option.

3) Abbas and Fateh: Perhaps Abbas and Fateh do not want to rush into a dialogue with Hamas - in spite of its inevitability - until after certain facts are established on the ground in the West Bank, and after Fateh has managed to retrieve the role it lost with the election results. For that, he might need Arab pressure or Israeli and European acquiescence.

4) Israel: Israel does not wish to see a Hamas-controlled Gaza. It has started to perceive a new and hostile entity on its southern borders. It will continue its pressure and economic siege on Gaza, and it will vie with Abbas in the attempt to weaken the legitimacy of Hamas. To achieve this, it might resort to neighboring countries and Europe in a bid to bring about the failure of the Hamas experiment. Israel will be watching very closely the opportunities and dangers proceeding from the latest events. It is also possible that Israel does not feel fully confident of the new situation and has not defined its position yet.

5) The U.S. and the West: The U.S. and the West might prefer that conditions revert to the way they were and will take measures to squeeze Hamas in order to highlight its impotence, to back Israel, and to hasten a solution that would be aligned with Israel's interests and would enhance America's standing on the international scene. It should be noted that not all Western countries are of one mind: some, like the United Kingdom, France and Germany support the U.S. position; others like Switzerland, Sweden and Norway are undecided. The U.S. and the European positions arise from their refusal to accept or recognize a Hamas-led government or a government in which Hamas has a strong showing, because this would signal the failure of U.S. policy in the region. Additionally, a Hamas success story might risk becoming an inspiration for other resistance movements, especially in the Middle East. The U.S. cannot accept Hamas or other similar movements achieving gains or power through the use of force. It insists on the path of peace as the only option for the solution to the problems. This, added to the fact that the Zionist and secular propaganda has focused on Islam as a foe of Western civilizations, whose purpose is the destruction of these civilizations.

Concluding Thoughts

However, before speculating on the different scenarios, we should insist on the inadmissibility of Israel and the international and regional communities to continue the siege of Gaza, isolating its people and driving them to famine. Like any other people, the people of Gaza , if deprived of salaries, food and freedom of movement, and if they find themselves literally squeezed into a corner, will inevitably turn Gaza into a pressure cooker ready to go off at any moment. Nobody can know how or in which direction this will happen. One thing is certain: The Palestinians - whether in Gaza or the West Bank - deserve to be treated with a degree of evenhandedness, objectivity and justice.

1 The parliamentary coalition representing the Hamas Movement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

2 It is the position of Hamas that the national unity government is a caretaker government until the new government gets parliament's vote of confidence. The present emergency government did not pass through parliament and is, consequently, considered not legal by Hamas.