During the past years, most of the discussions in the areas of Islamic thought and jurisprudence have been largely focused on the issue of the political participation of Islamist movements in government, and the ensuing effects - positive or negative - on these movements and on the societies in which they operate.
It is worth noting that the Palestinian context differs greatly from other Islamic ones in many Arab countries. This is primarily due to the Israeli occupation and the repression carried out against all Palestinian movements and parties, regardless of their ideological directions or whether they are Islamist or nationalist. Nevertheless, Hamas did not see any incongruity in considering its involvement in government as a temporary arrangement to help pave the way for the implementation of its future program, which is the creation of an Islamic state.
Although in Islam there are several theories and views that call for political pluralism and the possibility of coexistence, for Islamists movements, such positions lack the depth and backing of jurisprudence, as well as the legal mainstay needed to preserve their intellectual continuity in all future undertakings. It is not acceptable, then, for any Islamist party to operate according to theories and stances that remain of a purely political nature, emptied of shari┬┤a and jurisprudence attributes that underpin its political and ideological constitution. As a result, the notion of shura came to occupy an important and distinctive place in the political thought of the Hamas movement in Palestine.

Hamas and a Secular System

What does it signify for Hamas to take part in the Palestinian National Authority (PNA)?
Participating in the PNA implies operating within a secular system, which includes political pluralism and where power is exercised and transferred in a peaceful way through the ballot box. In addition, there is also a constitution, an elected parliament, a separation between the three powers, and the provision for freedoms and the respect of the rule of law.
Thus, participation in the political act entails functioning within the context of such a system in order to accede to power. Every political party aspires to assume power in order to implement its principles and aims. But there is only one way to achieve this: the non-violent way, through a democratic process and a peaceful transfer of power.
In Palestine, Hamas has worked very assiduously throughout the years and has made great efforts and sacrifices in order to achieve that aim. But is it likely that the new Hamas-led government will show flexibility or modify its political methods, and will it be possible for it to acquire experience in its administration of the Authority? Will the Islamist movement, for example, cater to a special program that would allow for genuine political pluralism, whereby the various political parties could operate and express their opinions freely?
The presence of Hamas in power poses several questions, many of which remain unanswered: Having acceded to power, will Hamas establish an Islamic regime that will make Islamic shari'a the ruling principle in Palestinian society? Or is it under extraordinary conditions that, perhaps, make it difficult for the movement to reach its aim straightforwardly? Will Hamas therefore adopt various options that will eventually enable it to realize its ultimate goal of applying Islamic shari'a, albeit after a long wait?
Another question pertains to the political order that will follow the existing one. Will it be Islamic? In other words, will Hamas allow for a smooth democratic process irrespective of the outcome? Will it be willing to relinquish the reins of power if it does not succeed in changing the direction of the government or if it fails in the upcoming elections, as is the practice in democratic countries, or will it hold on to power forever? More to the point, does Islamic jurisprudence allow an Islamic movement to relinquish power to a secular movement or party?
Finally, does the new political movement's presence in government constitute a political revolution, in the sense that it will agree to adopt political pluralism as the only means to extricate itself from the political crisis in which the Palestinian people are living? Hamas is now called upon to cope, with a measure of realism and pragmatism, with the international conditions that surround us and cast their shadows upon us, even though we might choose not to deal with them.

The Dichotomy between Thought and Practice

Given that the existing system in Palestine is not Islamic, nor are the laws of the country based on Islam, what would Hamas be dealing with? It is a movement that calls for Islam, yet does not apply it because the system is secular and it has to operate within its confines. Hamas has reached the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) based on its precept that Islam is the solution, while the laws currently in force are positive laws - not revealed. Should the presence of Hamas in power therefore be regarded as an exceptional situation that is not representative of Muslim society? And will Hamas have the option to choose between Islamic and non-Islamic rule?
The choice, then, is to stay within a secular, pluralistic political system that guarantees a certain measure of freedom - through which Hamas can maneuver and even govern and express its thoughts and positions overtly to the Palestinian people. The alternative would be to revert to jihad or to suffer blows, e.g., from Israel, that could undermine the movement's future fighting capacity, regardless of its success in reaching the Authority.
The Palestinian political arena consists of a variety of currents: nationalistic, leftist, liberal, and Islamist. Can Hamas distance itself and operate in isolation from them? Hamas will have to interact with the others and participate in projects of reform and change, work towards the efficient exploitation of the country's resources, and foster and develop relations with Arab countries and the international community, without losing sight of the constants as perceived by the movement - in short, to serve the Palestinian people and work in their best interest.
The question arises here of whether the interests of the Palestinian people coincide with those of Hamas and its general aims. Hamas now is presented with the opportunity to work with non-Islamist forces within the context of a pluralistic order. Will it base its performance on Islamic shari'a, and, if so, is working in a secular system compatible with Islamic shari'a?
If we talk about the presidency and Hamas (the Green) and review the possibilities of cooperation between the presidency and the government, we should remember that President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is a true Muslim. He is a firm believer in God, His angels and prophets, including Moses, Issa [Jesus], and Mohammad. He has been on pilgrimage, he prays, and he pays zakat.1 But it is also a known fact that Abbas champions democracy and firmly believes in a secular multi-party system. Is sharing the government with him a legitimate and permissible act from the perspective of shari'a, or would it be considered aiding and abetting in oppression?
It is possible that Hamas is following along the lines of many other Islamic forces that cite examples to justify the feasibility of working within non-Islamist systems and with rulers who, although Muslims themselves, do not apply Islamic law. The example regularly used is based on the fact that the Prophet Yousef (Joseph) took up a position in the ministry of finance during the reign of the Pharaohs in order to save the people of Egypt from famine (Surat Yousef). If Hamas agrees to share power with a non-Islamist president, does this mean that it is following in the footsteps of the Prophet Yousef, and will it be able, like him, to save the Palestinian people from an impending famine?
Hamas has accepted to enter into the political game, and it can have at its disposal a variety of justifications if it wants to remain in the government. If it has agreed to all that has been presented, then it is imperative that it form a national unity government without delay. This would be a last chance to break the deadlock that the Palestinian people are living under and from which nobody has been able to free them.

In my estimation, Hamas has a number of options, which can be summarized as follows:

* Hamas can oversee the performance of the PLC and prevent the misuse of power, and enforce accountability against offenders and violators of the law.
* As long as it has agreed to engage in politics, and as it knows the nature of the political equation in this world, it has to act in accordance with local, Arab, and international givens and their implications. In this respect, the path for Hamas is a national unity government in order to extricate itself from the crisis and subsequently to shoulder the responsibilities that are part and parcel of being in government and a player in the political arena.
* Hamas can consider a return to the principle of armed resistance, which in practice it has repudiated but would like hold on to from a theoretical point of view, for this is what gave it an edge in the last elections. This issue has many repercussions both on Hamas and on the Palestinian people.

Hamas is in a strong position to make its own choices, as it commands the majority in parliament. However, it cannot stay forever without reaching radical solutions, holding the Palestinian people hostage with it.
The movement's victory in the elections and its involvement in the political process do not imply that the people would automatically embrace its platform and rush to join it, individually or as groups. The people's response will be commensurate with the political program and goals that Hamas offers them. They will also be considering the practical steps the movement undertakes, as well as its accomplishments within the framework of the political system through which it has agreed to operate.
Abbas has shared in paving the way for Hamas to come to power after his many attempts to build an Authority different from that which existed under the late President Yasser Arafat. Last year, in a lecture organized in Amman by Orayb al-Rantawi, director of the Jerusalem Center for Educational Enrichment, I stated that Abbas wants "to join summer and winter - Fateh and Hamas - over the skies of al-Muqata'a," thus providing Hamas with an opportunity to enter the political game. This way, Abbas assumes control and becomes the central figure, and Fateh people will have to accept him willy-nilly. He does this because he knows he lacks the charisma and the historical heritage that Arafat enjoyed and, in this respect, he needs Hamas to the same degree that Fateh needs him.
Hamas has got a historic opportunity to get out of its present crisis by opening venues of cooperation with the president, with Fateh, and with all the other political forces. It can thus achieve internal and external (re)conciliation without giving up the constants, especially since the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people - and at their forefront Fateh - hold on to these national constants and struggle for them. The siege against Arafat that has impacted Fateh so deeply was, in effect, the response to Arafat's and his movement's position regarding Jerusalem and their refusal to give in on the national constants.
Therefore, Hamas needs to review the political vision that it is pursuing at present. It has to provide conditions conducive for collective work in a democratic climate throughout the whole of Palestine. It has to pursue an inclusive approach that will incorporate all the parties and political forces, irrespective of their divergent tendencies, their pluralism, and their distinctiveness.

1 Zakat means alms. It refers to a certain fixed proportion of the wealth of each Muslim to be paid yearly for the benefit of the poor. It is obligatory as it is one of the five pillars of Islam. <