The victory at the polls on Wednesday for Hamas, an extremist movement that rejects the existence of the state of Israel, is drawing concern over how the peace process and daily life for the Christian minority in the Palestinian territories will be affected.
Hamas, which goes by the formal name of Islamic Resistance Movement, is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel, and provides funds to the Palestinian Authority – an administrative body that governs over the territories.
The recent elections were considered fair by outside observers as Hamas obtained 76 of 132 parliamentary seats. The previous party in power, Fatah and had been in power for the past 10 years. It claimed 43 seats, with smaller parties claiming the rest.
U.S. President George Bush said that the elections were a "wake up call" to the Palestinian Authority leadership from people who were not happy with "the status quo."
However, he added that "I don’t see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform."
"And I know you can’t be a partner in peace if … your party has got an armed wing," he said.
Hamas’ willingness to use terrorism for its political ends is one of the most troubling elements of the elections, according Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who heads the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
"Hamas has been an opposition movement, a movement that did not hesitate to use terrorism, kamikazes, for its political ends," he said from a press conference in Rome on Friday, according to Catholic News Service.
That is causing anxiety for Christians and for all moderate Palestinians, he added.
"There are no reasons to be afraid, but there are reasons to be worried," Pizzaballa continued. He hoped that governing would moderate the hard-line stance of the group’s leaders, who he said would have to learn to compromise.
"The Islamic mold of Hamas certainly prompts many questions among Christians. Above all in the cities where Christians are a small minority, people are asking, 'What will become of us? What will they do?'" he said.
"But we shouldn't overdramatize the situation. Reactions are always exaggerated at first, but I think things will settle down," the priest stated.
He felt that the people had voted the way they did as a "strong protest vote" over public dissatisfaction over internal politics, corruption, the economy and a breakdown in public order.
The two main areas under control of the Palestinian Authority are the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has its headquarters, and the West Bank, where its presence is less strongly felt.
According to reports, it is rare to see a woman outdoors without a head scarf the Gaza Strip. Also, no alcohol is sold in stores or restaurants there. In West Bank cities such as Nablus and Hebron the group also has a strong presence. Meanwhile, relatively liberal cities in the West Bank include Ramallah, Jericho and Bethlehem.
The ascendancy of a new party may bring with it social change as well.
In one Christian area of Ramallah, Dianna Mohawi, a 32-year-old woman dressed in western clothes who works at a leather goods store, says that even if Hamas doesn’t introduce laws about alcohol, or women’s dress, people would change their behavior anyway to fit the new, apparently more Islamic, mood.
"People will probably start watching their lifestyle, socially," she said, according to the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper.
"Parties, weddings, restaurants, people will watch their attire. Even without Hamas, Palestinian society is conservative. If a lady wears a short-sleeved shirt on the street, she might hear negative comments. That was without Hamas. Imagine how it will be with Hamas."