Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Understanding the Birzeit elections

Hamas victories in Palestinian student union elections need to be seen within the wider context of politics in the West Bank, writes Abdul-Sattar Qassem

Al-Ahram Weekly

The recent elections held at the Palestinian universities of Birzeit and An-Najah can be considered good indicators of the popularity of Palestinian factions. Media outlets usually refer to student unions at universities to get a sense of popular feelings towards Palestinian factions and organisations.

In recent years, media outlets have focused on Birzeit University because its administration believes in democracy and insists on holding elections. An-Najah National University has not held elections in recent years, perhaps out of fear that Palestinian Authority (PA) nominees will lose to Islamist movements.

The violation of democratic principles at An-Najah National University has gone as far as the university’s president dismissing the head of the employees’ union and replacing him, even as employees themselves remained silent.

The Birzeit University student union elections were held on 27 April, and Hamas won 25 out of 51 seats. The PA list won 21 seats, while the Palestinian Alliance, a left-wing group, won five. Fatah had been optimistic about its chances of defeating Hamas by a large margin, so it was surprised when Hamas won and reinforced its position; it also won last year’s elections.

But the Hamas victory was not a surprise to those monitoring the Palestinian situation for the following five main reasons.

First, Hamas members are persecuted by PA security forces and have been suffering from arbitrary measures such as arrests and physical torture. They are also persecuted by the Israeli security agencies, involving all the pain and sorrow associated with that. The persecution even extends to election nominees, and sometimes even to victors, as the Israeli and Palestinian security agencies continue to harm members of Hamas.

This raises popular sympathy with the movement, as the majority are able to see the injustice with their own eyes, provoking many questions regarding the PA’s role in reinforcing Israeli security.

Second, people appreciate the major sacrifices made by Hamas during Israeli wars on Gaza. Hamas proved to everyone that it had been working day and night to improve its military capabilities in the face of Israel. During the three Israeli wars, Hamas proved that it had prepared itself and prevented Israel from succeeding in its military campaigns in Gaza. Its perseverance gained it the respect and appreciation of the Palestinian people and reinforced its presence in the hearts of the Palestinians.

Third, the PA itself is broadly hated by the people, who have been able to witness its corruption, its close cooperation with the Israelis, and its security forces’ activities in support of Israeli security. A large number of Palestinians have accused the PA of treason.

Fourth, the PA has taken every opportunity to harm itself in terms of organisational and financial corruption. It burdens the people with taxes and fees for administrative transactions and has placed them in situations of great financial distress. Fatah has failed over the years to separate itself from the PA and avoid the harm that the PA has caused to the movement’s reputation among the people. It has been unable to separate itself because it controls the main aspects of Palestinian life in the West Bank, and the overwhelming majority of government jobs are reserved for Fatah members.

Fifth, the Palestinian people continue to support the resistance and see no other way to regain Palestinian national rights. The negotiations approach has lost its justification and only continues to convince a small proportion of the Palestinian public.

Meanwhile, the resistance approach remains the best in the minds of the majority of the people, despite the sacrifices it entails. The Palestinian resistance is also not accused of the same kind of corruption as the PA, and it has gained the trust of many Palestinians.

Despite PA losses against Hamas, it received a large number of votes in the elections. Despite the PA’s deteriorating situation and the dangerous accusations directed against it, there are still a large number of people who support it. This perhaps indicates a flaw or imbalance in the level of Palestinian awareness and the extent of the destruction that has been caused to the general social and moral fabric.

In any case, the university elections in Palestine do not constitute a scientific standard of measuring the popularity of one party or another. They are only an indicator. Hamas usually receives a higher percentage of the popular vote among university students, but students are a limited social group, while general elections represent all social groups in Palestine.

The writer is a professor of political science at An-Najah National University in the occupied West Bank.

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