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Palestinian vote shows political will

By Guy Raz
CNN

Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences covering the news.

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CNN correspondent Guy Raz

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- We -- you, me, and the rest of the world -- have been voyeurs to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for a long time.

We have the privilege (most of us, at least) of watching it from afar, wistfully and (sometimes naively) wondering why it can't simply be resolved.

It can't be resolved so simply because it combines the complex factors of competing histories, blood, religion, and above all, land.

But what has made this conflict so different in the past year is that, by and large, both sides want it ended.

And, broadly speaking again, both sides have strikingly similar ideas of how to end it.

In simple terms, again, Israelis and Palestinians -- for different reasons -- have reached a level of political maturity almost unprecedented in the world of international conflict.

Israelis look set to elect a broadly centrist political movement to lead the country when they go to the polls in late March.

Palestinians went to the polls demanding their next government serve them better.

How the next Palestinian Cabinet will look is still unclear. We do not know if the mainstream Fatah movement will be forced to form a governing coalition with the more radical (and often rejectionist) Hamas movement. What we do know is that Israel, an otherwise familiar player in Palestinian political rhetoric, was largely a bit-part player in these elections.

Palestinians are growing weary of blaming all their ails on Israel.

They are politically savvy enough to know that for 10 years, their government didn't serve them as best it could.

Even under occupation, there are many things a government can do. It can improve education, raise living standards, strengthen internal security, operate in a transparent manner, and, above all, not steal from the public coffers.

On all these accounts, the Palestinian government under Fatah hasn't lived up to its potential.

And that's what would likely push Palestinian voters to punish the movement founded by the late Yasser Arafat.

At the same time, some Palestinians likely won't vote for Hamas because of the group's decade-long campaign of suicide bombs.

In fact, a recent poll taken by esteemed Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki concludes that, for the first time, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians oppose violent attacks against Israelis.

Thus, if Palestinians vote for Hamas in large numbers, it would signal desire for a change -- to see whether the Islamist movement can hold the dominant Fatah movement accountable for its actions.

Israel, of course, is worried about this. Hamas, at least officially, is committed to Israel's destruction. The group doesn't recognize Israel, and most of its top leaders have suggested they're not interested in negotiating peace with Israel.

But consider this: When Israelis voted for Ariel Sharon to lead their government in 2000, most of the Arab world was appalled.

They remembered Sharon as the general who led Israel's bloody and disastrous invasion of Lebanon, and the man who was a determined opponent of Palestinian self-determination.

But it wasn't an Israeli "peacenik" like Shimon Peres who withdrew Jewish settlers from occupied land.

It was Sharon who did it. And it was Sharon, more than any current Israeli politician, who brought the two parties closer to a two-state solution.

The question now, of course, is whether Israel's fears of a Hamas-heavy government will prove founded, or whether the group will provide a surprise of its own, and head to the negotiating table.

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