DOHA, Qatar -- Hamas' electoral success since the first round of local elections in Gaza in December has signaled a dramatic shift in the way the movement is perceived both nationally and internationally.

The defining moment was not Hamas' direct participation in the three rounds of local elections leading to the now postponed parliamentary elections but the passing of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on Nov. 11. Arafat's death convincingly shifted the political pendulum in favor of Hamas.

Arafat's unanticipated absence brought to the surface an array of conflicts within his own party, Fatah. This internal strife manifested itself in open power struggles between the movement's traditional, elitist leadership -- labeled the old guard -- and the younger generation. The past force of unity among Palestinians has become an expression of political and social volatility, rendering reforms within the party not just desirable but imperative.