SMITH: Joining us now from Israel, Senior Fellow from the Center for American Progress, Mara Rudman. She’s a former chief of staff for the National Security Council. Mara, your reaction initially to what’s happened.
RUDMAN: Thanks. Well, I’ve been out here as an observer for the National Democratic Institute and the Carter Center. I’ve been here for the last several weeks and have been observing the election closely over the last several days. And the election process itself was a very clean and transparent one with really an impressive amount of organization by the Central Election Commission. And both the Israelis and Palestinians need to be congratulated for how they conducted this election. In terms of what happens now, it’s very much a wait-and-see by all sides, including the Palestinians. I think President Bush said it very well, frankly, in his press conference this afternoon. The important thing first of all is that President Abbas remains as president, and we have to see exactly what Hamas intends to do, in terms of what they do as the majority now in the legislature.
SMITH: Well, you mentioned President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen to the locals there, there’s breaking news out of Ramallah, as the Palestinian leader said he’ll start immediate consultations to form that new government, not surprising in any way, in fact expected. I guess the bigger question is here, is it possible, in your estimation, that this could in fact be a good thing? An analysis piece in today’s Jerusalem Post suggests that now Hamas will be at the table, Hamas will be in charge, Hamas will have to provide services and come to the negotiating table. Is it possible that this might moderate them?
RUDMAN: It’s absolutely possible that it might moderate them. It’s also possible, frankly, that Fatah will go through a rebuilding process. Listen, there are some who think that Fatah is completely decimated and may never rebuild. They are clearly, absolutely in the minority status, as you pointed out. They have just slightly over 40 seats at this point in the legislature. They got a huge wake-up call — many said it was a long time coming. This was mostly a vote about the corruption that was endemic in the Palestinian Authority, about how much Fatah had not delivered. Clearly it was a protest vote by many Palestinians.
Now it is Hamas that has to deliver. I should note, however, that it’s still an open question exactly how Hamas will formulate this government. It may well be a unity government. Although Hamas has a majority of the seats, it’s still an open question in terms of how they actually formulate their cabinet. Whether Fatah will have a number of cabinet seats, disproportionate, for example, to the number they have in the legislature.