The Palestinian ruling Fatah faction has sought to downplay the significance of Hamas’s recent victory in student council elections at two universities in the West Bank, saying this does not necessarily reflect the attitude of most Palestinians.
Hamas, for its part, views the results of the elections as a vote of confidence in its ideology of armed “resistance” against Israel, as well as an expression of growing frustration with Fatah in particular and the Palestinian Authority in general. The PA is dominated by Fatah loyalists and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, also serves as chairman of Fatah.
In the past two weeks, Hamas-affiliated lists won the student council elections at An-Najah University in Nablus and Bir Zeit University, north of Ramallah. The victory is seen by many Palestinians as a blow to Abbas, Fatah, and the PA.
The victory of the Hamas-affiliated lists came despite tremendous efforts by the Fatah leadership in the West Bank to ensure that its supporters win the vote. It also came amid an ongoing crackdown by PA security forces on Hamas members in the West Bank, which is believed to have contributed to the defeat of Fatah’s student lists.
Although several senior Fatah officials have expressed disappointment over their faction’s defeat, others said over the weekend that they were less concerned about the results. They said they are confident that if parliamentary elections were held today, Fatah would win.
Fatah is being held responsible for PA failures
Those who voiced dissatisfaction over the results said Fatah was paying the price for the “failed” policies of Abbas and the PA leadership.
“Most Palestinians see no difference between the Palestinian Authority and Fatah,” a veteran Fatah activist told The Jerusalem Post. “That’s why they hold Fatah responsible for the bad things the Palestinian Authority does.”
According to the activist, the violence that erupted in the West Bank over the past year and the killing of scores of Palestinians, including many gunmen, by the Israeli security forces, played into the hands of Hamas and other extremist groups.
In pre-election debates at An-Najah University and Bir Zeit University, Hamas supporters again denounced the PA for conducting security coordination with Israel in the West Bank. Some went as far as to claim that the PA security forces were helping Israel in its counterterrorism operations against armed groups, such as the Lions’ Den in Nablus.
Spokesmen for the Hamas-affiliated lists at the two universities focused their electoral campaigns on Musab Shtayyeh, a top Hamas operative who was arrested last year by the PA security forces in Nablus. The arrest sparked armed clashes between gunmen and PA security officers during which one man was killed and several others were injured. Shtayyeh remains in PA custody despite promises by the PA to release him.
After the results of the elections were announced at Bir Zeit University, Hamas supporters announced that Shtayyeh has been appointed as “honorary chairman” of the Hamas-dominated student council.
Some Fatah-affiliated students at the same university seized the opportunity to point out that Hamas did not dare join the recent round of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) organization. This, in their opinion, was proof that Hamas had abandoned the “resistance” against Israel.
Hamas ridicules Abbas for UN speech
The elections at Bir Zeit University came in the aftermath of Abbas’s May 15 speech at the UN’s Nakba Day event in New York.
Many Palestinians have criticized Abbas for “begging” the UN to provide protection to the Palestinians, arguing that his words and tone did not befit a Palestinian leader.
Addressing the UN, Abbas said: “I want to understand why the United Nations and the General Assembly are not protecting us. We are being beaten up every day. Protect us, protect us. Why aren’t you protecting us? Aren’t we human beings? Even animals are protected. If you have an animal, you won’t protect it? Apparently, you don’t protect animals.”
During one of the debates at Bir Zeit on the eve of the elections, leaders of the Hamas-affiliated student list ridiculed Abbas for his remarks and presented them as proof that he and the Palestinian leadership were incapable of representing the Palestinians. They also expressed outrage with Abbas for allegedly comparing Palestinians to animals.
Some Palestinians, including a number of Fatah members, believe Abbas’s speech was one of the reasons behind the Hamas victory at Bir Zeit. “It was a bad and weak speech,” admitted another Fatah activist. “President Abbas has also been criticized for blocking parliamentary and presidential elections and for failing to end the dispute between Fatah and Hamas.”
Yet, not all Fatah officials share the pessimism expressed by some of their colleagues.
One official pointed out that Fatah-affiliated student lists recently won elections in four other universities in the West Bank: Hebron University, Bethlehem University, Palestine Polytechnic University (in Hebron) and Palestine Ahliya University (in Bethlehem).
“The results of the elections at the six universities, including Bir Zeit and An-Najah, show that Fatah received more votes than Hamas,” noted a Fatah official in Ramallah. “Altogether, more than 34,000 students voted in the elections at the six universities; Fatah got 16,150 compared to 15,103 for Hamas. Lists that are affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and other factions won fewer than 3,000 votes. This shows that Fatah is still popular and has a strong presence at the universities and many parts of the West Bank.”
The official pointed out that the recent university student council electoral processes show that the PA and Fatah leaderships are keen on holding free elections in the West Bank. “In the Gaza Strip, Hamas does not allow free elections,” he said. “But where you have Fatah in power, you have elections. Most of the elections Hamas won, including the 2006 parliamentary elections, occurred when the Palestinian Authority was in power.”