The rival Fatah Party, which controlled Palestinian politics for four decades, won 43 seats.
Exit polls Wednesday night showed a slight edge for Fatah, but that changed over night, as did the outlook for the future of Middle East peace efforts.
The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, and his government submitted their resignations Thursday and President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to ask Hamas to form the next government, according to the Associated Press.
Hamas calls for Israel’s destruction and has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in recent years. The group has largely abided by a truce announced early in 2005, but has said it is not prepared to lay down its weapons.
Israel and the United States, who view Hamas as a terrorist organization, said the election results did not change their pledge not to deal with the group.
The acting prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, said on Wednesday that his country could not accept a situation in which Hamas would be part of the Palestinian Authority if the group remained committed to armed resistance.
In Washington, President Bush said he didn’t “see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate destruction of a country.” But he added that the election results showed democracy at work, which was positive for the Middle East region.
“What was also positive is that it was a wake up call to the leadership, obviously people were not happy with the status quo,” Mr. Bush told a White House news conference.
Fatah, the party of the late Yasser Arafat that has dominated Palestinian politics for decades.
Fatah leader, President Abbas, also called Abu Mazen, was elected a year ago and is not affected by Wednesday’s vote. However, Abbas has said he would resign if he could no longer pursue his peace agenda, and since the legislature must approve any major initiative, Hamas would have tremendous influence over any peace moves.
Aides said Abbas planned a major speech after final results are announced by the Central Election Commission.
In its energetic campaign, Hamas accused the Fatah leaders of growing lazy and corrupt and that a change was needed to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians.
“Hamas did not win because people loved Hamas, but because people were taking revenge against the past years of Fatah rule,” said Adel al-Helo, a Gaza shopkeeper, according to Reuters News Agency.
Iran, which recently elected an Islamic conservative president who opposes the existence of Israel, was pleased with the results. “Iran … hopes that the powerful presence of Hamas at the (political) scene brings about great achievements for the Palestinian nation,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.
But United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called upon Hamas to disarm and accept diplomatic channels.
“Any group that wishes to participate in the democratic process should ultimately disarm because to carry weapons and participate in a democratic process and sit in parliament, there is a fundamental contradiction,” he said.
Hamas has not laid out any definitive next steps, but top Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal told Abbas his group is ready for a political partnership, the AP reported.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said the group would extend its year-old truce if Israel reciprocates. “If not, then I think we will have no option but to protect our people and our land,” he said.
The election was monitored by 900 foreign observers, including former President Jimmy Carter and the former Swedish prime minister, Carl Bildt. A preliminary assessment from an official in the United States delegation called the voting “generally smooth, with sporadic violence and a robust turnout,” according to the New York Times.
Turnout was estimated by officials at nearly 77 percent of the 1.3 million eligible voters.