It is the tradition in the US that any new government is given a grace period of 100 days before a judgment is voiced about its direction and effectiveness. But this has not been the case with the Hamas-led Palestinian National Authority.

For a start, hardly a month has passed since the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, was voted to office when many Palestinians and others were looking for ways to undermine it. And in good part, Hamas has itself to blame because of its clumsiness and failure to live up to its new and serious responsibilities. Its pronouncements upon taking office seemed to give mixed messages, yet giving hope that the group can in a short while manage to weave a reasonable mid-course. But other pronouncements of late sounded extreme, thus giving ammunition to those who did not believe that Hamas can rise to the occasion; consequently they were bent on crushing the new Palestinian leadership.

The confusion about Hamas's potential has been widespread and hotly debated. Even an influential analyst as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman seemed ill at ease explaining the options ahead. He told a CNN interviewer last Sunday, "I think it is not smart for Israel and the United States to create a situation where, if Hamas fails, they can blame the failure on Israel, the United States, or Europe." He continued, "At the same time, a suicide bombing happens, and what does Hamas do? It basically applauds. And so, what do you deal when you are dealing with a democratically elected terrorist organisation? This is a hard problem, I don't have a simple answer for it?"

Chance to succeed

Although many Palestinians do not subscribe to Hamas's ideological bent, they believe that it should be given a chance to succeed since the Israeli occupier and its western supporters have not been more accommodating with the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority in the past 10 years. A case in point was evident last week when Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora visited Washington where he was warmly received at the White House and showered with US support. When discussing the case of Hezbollah, the well-spoken Lebanese prime minister explained to his American hosts that his government cannot attempt to disarm the Islamic militia group before Israel withdraws from the Shebaa Farms, a strip of land bordering Lebanon, Syria and Israel.

If the Lebanese position makes sense to some in the Bush administration, the Palestinian leadership, be they Hamas or Fatah, should not be treated differently. Furthermore, it is high time that the Israeli government declares its own vision for peace in the region

The days ahead are replete with serious problems. The infighting among Palestinians needs to be curtailed. If anything, the new Palestinian leadership, as well as all the outside financial backers, should concentrate on finding ways to tackle the looming humanitarian crisis should financial assistance be denied the Palestinian man-in-the-street. A lot will depend on prime minister-elect Ehud Olmert and the Bush administration when he visits Washington in late May after choosing his new cabinet.

The defeat of Hamas will only prolong the conflict, a development the region cannot tolerate much longer now that the Israeli occupation is about to begin its 40th year in June.

- George Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at