So, Hamas has won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature. As I have previously argued, I do not believe that this is the political disaster that some make it out to be. Hamas now has legitimate and significant political power. What would Hamas stand to gain by continuing the war against Israel? What would Hamas stand to lose? It seems to me that scales are tilted towards costs.
Hamas has always shown more of an interest in the nitty-gritty of governance than has the PLO/PA, be it under Arafat or Abbas. Hamas has done much more than has Fatah to root out corruption and to improve social services, which explains the surprising, sweeping parliamentary victory. But the act of governing will transform the situation. When Hamas was a shadowy organization conducting a terrorist insurgency, Israel's options were limited. Targets were hard to find, and there was little to threaten other than the lives of the leaders and the militants. But now Hamas will look much more like a state, meaning that there will be a better chance of creating deterrence. Hamas will have to build social institutions, sit in the parliament and mayoral/gubernatorial houses, and openly campaign to win future elections. If Israel needs to retaliate, there will have much more concrete targets than before. Hamas will not likely be willing to forfeit and sacrifice the political power that it has so difficultly wrested away from Fatah.
Now, I will not be surprised if I'm wrong, but I do expect that Hamas will behave itself and restrain its violent campaign against Israel. There will be, of course, more suicide attacks against Israeli citizens. They will be carried out by Islamic Jihad, Hamas (either by the organization itself or by rogue members upset with Hamas' new course), and maybe even Fatah, which quite possibly may conclude it needs to return to violence to re-gain its political stature. Moving the peace process forward will require great patience on both sides. Israel must be willing to give Hamas the opportunity to transform itself into a real political party. And Hamas must realize, as I believe it has, that this opportunity is the road to best outcome that Hamas could actually achieve: governing an independent Palestinian state.
UPDATE: I am happy to announce that I am not alone in my optimistic outlook on the victory by Hamas. Gary Becker agrees with me. Nothing like have a Nobel laureate in your corner.