The pundits were wrong; so, too, the exit polls. Palestinians threw out the ruling bums and put the Islamic militant group Hamas in charge of their collective life. Their overwhelming rejection of the Palestinian leadership's decade-old hold on power changes the political landscape in the Middle East, leaving Israel, the United States and their European allies to confront a new government led by a known terrorist group.
The upset over Fatah, the faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the late Yasser Arafat, gave the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, a clear majority in the 132-seat parliament and control of a new government. The independently elected Mr. Abbas will have to name a new prime minister, if not from Hamas, surely someone supported by it. Hamas' challenge now is to live up to its promise of "change and reform." Providing jobs, housing and security may prove tougher than dispatching suicide bombers to kill civilians and advocating the destruction of Israel.
Israel, the United States and Europe say they won't deal with a government that deals in violence - it can't be any other way in this volatile region. That leaves Hamas with an existential choice: to break with its past of armed struggle and accept the millions in foreign aid that drive the Palestinian Authority, or go it alone.
The democratic process put Hamas in power, but will it ascribe to a founding principle of democracy, the rule of law? Hamas should maintain its cease-fire with Israel, but can it mollify the other armed groups and keep the young Fatah hawks from resuming their terrorist strikes? These are among the real life issues of governing that face this new Palestinian government.
When Mr. Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization accepted the Oslo peace accords, they had to reform their charter and renounce their call for Israel's demise. They had to forsake armed resistance for peaceful governance. Those transitions never successfully took hold, but the corrupting influence of power did.
In the absence of some accommodation on Hamas' use of violence, Israel will be left to pursue its own agenda. It will continue walling off the Palestinian territories. It will keep expanding settlements around Jerusalem and in the West Bank. It will "fight terrorism with a heavy hand, everywhere." Any chance to resume peace talks will diminish.
In talking about the Hamas upset yesterday, President Bush invoked the "power of democracy." The status quo has changed, and if the new Palestinian leadership acts as a responsible government should, the administration and the world will have to respond in kind. That may be a big if.