The victory of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections should not cause panic in western capitals. It is the natural result of the push for democracy in the Middle East and the failure of governance and transparency in pro Western Arab regimes. Commitment to democracy requires respect for the choice of the people no matter what that choice is. Victory for Hamas will of course be a test to the movement’s ability to deal pragmatically with the many challenges facing the Palestinian people.

Hamas’s victory, however, should be a wake up call to many. Such an impressive victory by an Islamic ideological movement is worrisome to secular and liberal Arabs and Moslems not to mention Christian Arabs. While the election results can be registered as an unprecedented victory for democracy, there is room for worry when political leaders prioritize divine right to the people’s rights. Palestinians have a lot to worry about in as far as the social, educational and cultural program of Hamas. Palestinians will have a hard time dealing with a government that will try to push back many of the social liberal gains that have been won by women and civilian libertarians.

There is also reason for concern about Hamas’s political charter, especially in as far as its position vis a vis Israel. Hamas will not be able to hide its head in the sand by refusing to deal with the political realities in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But these problems notwithstanding, there is no reason for becoming paranoid. Hamas leaders are on the record as not intending to impose their social agenda against the will of the Palestinians. They have also expressed willingness to deal with Israel, although not yet clear ceding to the state of Israel’s request for an unconditional recognition before the final borders of Israel are determined.

The participation of Hamas and other Palestinian groups and individuals in the political process is a huge plus for what has been missing in Palestinian politics over 40 years. A power sharing process.

Now that Hamas has participated and won, they will be expected to give answers to many of the questions that they were being raised against the Fatah- led governments. The victory of Hamas is probably more of a rejection of the political monopoly of the PLO’s leading guerilla group than a statement of unreserved support for the Islamic movement. With this victory it is important that they be given a fair chance to govern with only one condition. They must not be allowed to change the rules of the game that brought them to power. Without changing the rotation of power that democracy provides, the Palestinian people will ultimately decide whether they should stay in power or not.

Hamas’s victory is also an important test for western powers espousing democratic values and exporting them to what George Bush likes to call the greater Middle East. The US and Europe as well as Israel who have been the evangelists of democracy will be now challenged to answer the simple question of whether their own interests will take precedent over democratic values and principles. To be fair, both Mahmoud Abbas, and the Americans must be credited to pushing through the recent Palestinian elections despite the risk that Hamas would win.

Statements by senior western and Israeli leaders of refusing to deal with a Hamas-run Palestinian government or provide support to the Palestinian people through such a government have probably helped rather than hurt Hamas’s election victory.

The Palestinian public acted like any other people when they threw out the Fatah led government which they blamed for the financial as well political corruption that has led to the miserable situation that Palestinians find themselves in after years of occupation and resistance.

Western powers should not overreact to the latest twist in Palestinian politics and instead should use it as proof that their own commitment to democracy and human rights is solid irrespective of the results. The sooner that America and its allies embrace these results the sooner that the peoples of the Middle East will follow through and push out their own dictatorial regimes. The real allies of America and Europe should be the people of the region and not the corrupt regimes. Ultimately this is the challenge of democracy.

Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist. His email is