There was a constant chill running through the open doors, as the few days around the election were dreary, wet and cold. A cold that sinks into your bones, preventing you from ever fully warming up.
Very late on Wednesday¹s election day, the early poll numbers were still looking like Fatah would come out on top — but only with a slight margin over Hamas. FOX News Channel producer Ibrahim was getting some indications from his election contacts that Hamas — in some areas — was threatening to come out ahead of Fatah, but nothing was confirmed nor big enough to prevent us from finally heading back to our Ramallah hotel, called "Rocky," at about 2 AM. Like Sylvester Stallone's underdog boxing film character. Little did we know that an underdog had pulled ahead in the ballot counting as we slept.
Racing off to election HQ
I was awoken by Steve from New York — "Did you hear, Hamas is saying they won and some Fatah leaders are conceding the election." Foggy after only a few hours of sleep, I began to read the reports on my Blackberry. A quick splash of water on my face, and one quick report over the phone, then off to the Election Headquarters we went.
It became clear throughout the day that Hamas had pulled off a huge upset victory. It seemed that many of the exit polls were off the mark because people were not telling the truth, saying they voted for Fatah while really voting for Hamas.
The official word finally came at 7pm, but at that point is was confirming something we had all been reporting all day. Hamas, a militant group who refuses to negotiate with Israel and vows for its destruction, is now going to form the next Palestinian government.
After days of eating doughy pizza and soggy sandwiches in our cramped space we decided to have a proper sit down meal — after all, the big part of the story had been reported. We went to dinner at Darna restaurant, a very famous restaurant and THE "see and be seen" place in Ramallah.
As well-to-do Palestinians puffed on sheesha tobacco water pipes and drank wine, some kidded that now with Hamas coming to power the city might change. Part of Hamas' platform is for the creation of an Islamic State on all of historic Palestine — that includes Israel AND could include some conservative laws. People chuckled about what Darna might be like in a few months, but it was nervous laughter. Ramallah is the Palestinian cultural capital filled with many wealthy Palestinians holding dual US/Palestinian citizenship. One saying, "This is Ramallah, even if Hamas puts in more conservative laws. Ramallah will always stay like this."
"If" — Small Word, Big Punch
In this part of the world, it is amazing how much difference a little distance makes. A few miles of territory could translate into decades of time or unthinkable cultural differences.
On the hill where the Cultural Center stands, when the low clouds parted for a few moments, off in the distance you can see one of the tall West Jerusalem hotels in Israel. It was baffling that within such a small distance, the differences were so stark. And the $10,000 question: Are those differences just about to become deeper when Hamas creates its government?
On our way out of Ramallah, we had to pull the car over so I could do my daily phone interview with FOX News Radio affiliate WLW in Cincinnati. I do this every weekday morning and talking to their host Jim Scott has become part of my morning like my double-espresso medication.
I talked to Jim and updated him on all that was going on the day after the surprising results were released. Things were starting to brew a bit — some men were heading out to the streets in the West Bank and Gaza. That mushroomed hours later and continued over the weekend, but one thing Jim said, I found very interesting. I did not realize it but when giving my report I probably said "If" 7 times. "IF" Fatah is not going to be part of the Palestinian cabinet, and it turns out all Hamas, there is no one to talk to Israelis... "IF" Israel will not talk to Hamas at all, then not only is the peace process going to be affected, it's going to stop in its tracks...
Jim ended the interview with a short yet insightful phrase: "'If,' a small word with huge implications."
Before checking out — FOX News correspondent Amy Kellogg and I were talking with the owner of the Rocky Hotel.
When we asked him how he felt about Hamas winning the elections, he simply shook his head saying that the Palestinian people already live in a prison and now the prison walls were only going to built even higher. But, he added, hopefully after a few years it will be better than it is now with the corruption and lawlessness after years of Fatah rule. That is, "IF" there is progress in the peace talks, and "IF" Palestinians can still trade will Israel.