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Hamas Bloc Victorious in Student Elections at Top West Bank University
Palestinian students supporting the Islamic Hamas movement wave the movement's flag as they celebrate a victory in student council elections at Birzeit University on the outskirts of Ramallah in the West Bank on May 19, 2022. (Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images)

Hamas Bloc Victorious in Student Elections at Top West Bank University

The Islamic Allegiance Bloc defeated the bloc supported by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah in Birzeit University student council elections  

The Hamas-linked Islamic Allegiance Bloc won a landslide victory in elections for student council at the prestigious Birzeit University, located north of Ramallah, on Wednesday night, defeating their Fatah-linked Yasser Arafat Bloc rivals.

The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the bloc supported by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah with its 3,379 votes bagged just 18 seats.

Five blocs vied for the council’s 51 seats, with voter turnout at 78.1%.

Elections at Palestinian universities are closely followed by the Palestinian public, especially at Birzeit, where the results could indicate how West Bank Palestinian public opinion is shifting.

Many observers say Wednesday’s elections are an indication of the Palestinian political mood, especially since Birzeit has approximately 13,000 students from cities and villages throughout the West Bank.

Birzeit was once a bastion of support for Fatah, with the two biggest rival Palestinian movements mostly tied in recent years. In the last election – held in 2019 – both parties garnered 23 seats.

Esmat Mansour, a Ramallah-based political analyst, attributes Fatah’s poor showing to the general political situation in the West Bank.

“I think the election result takes a political dimension, as it is affected by the general political atmosphere, and this is evidence that people are tired of the politics of the PA and its exclusivity in government, and put all their resentment on its bad management.”

Mansour adds that what happened is a “blow and a message that the PA’s policy is no longer acceptable, that it is gradually being isolated, and that it is losing the street, public opinion and its elites everywhere.”

In the absence of parliamentary and presidential elections, this election becomes an important parameter of the pulse on the street toward Abbas and his policies

US-based Palestinian affairs expert Hasan Awwad told The Media Line that the outcome did not surprise him, because of the high level of anger toward the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas.

“In the absence of parliamentary and presidential elections, this election becomes an important parameter of the pulse on the street toward Abbas and his policies,” Awwad said.

Birzeit’s vice president, Ghassan Khatib, said some see the campus vote as “a test for measuring public opinion,” since there is no general election on the horizon.

Elections at the most popular Palestinian university took place at a time when the general Palestinian population has not been to the polls in more than a decade; at that time, Hamas won a decisive victory over a divided Fatah in a parliamentary vote.

Abbas, who leads the Fatah party, canceled elections scheduled for last year citing Israel’s refusal to allow voting in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their capital.

However, many Palestinian analysts say the real decision behind the cancellation of those elections was fear that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, would thrash Fatah, the party which dominates the PA.

Fatah has seen its popularity dwindling since Abbas took office.

“Many Palestinians do not differentiate between the PA and Fatah, and therefore they pour out their anger on Fatah. I think that this is not a success for Hamas as much as it is a loss for Fatah and the PA,” Mansour said.

Attorney Moien Odeh, who specializes in human rights and international law, and is an expert on Palestinian affairs, told The Media Line that the student election outcome was a referendum on Abbas and Fatah.

“They are a clear reflection of the public opinion about Fatah and Abbas,” he asserted.

If public elections take place soon, they will favor Hamas, Odeh says. With respect to the Birzeit elections, he adds: “I don’t think the results surprised Abbas or Fatah people, but it will make it very hard for them to keep claim legitimacy from the Palestinian street.”

Experts point to the Palestinian Authority’s policies as a reason for the poor showing of the Fatah block. Fatah, the Palestinians largest and most populace faction, has seen its popularity diminish and it is bearing a lot of the weight of the negative image of PA President Abbas.

Fatah supporters say they are paying the price for the mistakes of the PA and its leaders, who have been accused of corruption, nepotism and security coordination with Israel.

“It is not clear what will be Fatah’s reaction to this election, they might try to prevent other elections in other universities unless they will be sure of victory. Anyway, unfortunately, I think the results will make the PA think three times before thinking to hold parliamentary and presidential elections,” Odeh said.

I don’t think the results surprised Abbas or Fatah people, but it will make it very hard for them to keep claim legitimacy from the Palestinian street

Fatah officials and members are fuming over the loss, many are calling for an investigation to find out why there was such a poor showing, and others are demanding that a separation between the PA and the movement be made.

Secretary of the Fatah Region in Ramallah and Al-Bireh Mowaffaq Sahweil reportedly submitted his resignation over the election results. He described the election outcome as a “resounding defeat.”

“We call on the movement [Fatah] to form an investigation committee because I have a lot [to say]. By God, the movement has been filled with intruders and mercenaries, cadres in the movement, senior officers in the security establishment and employees of the Palestinian Authority, their sons and daughters working as cadres in the Islamic bloc,” he said in a text to supporters.

This comes amid rising calls and appeals to separate the Fatah movement from the PA.

Secretary of the Central Committee of the Fatah Movement, Jibril Rajoub, said that the movement “will conduct self-accountability and draw lessons and lessons” from the results of the student council elections at Birzeit University, adding that it is “paying the price for the authority’s mistakes.”

Rajoub pointed out, in statements to Palestine TV, that “some Fatahists have anger and frustration, and this is their right. … We in the Central Committee will review, study and draw lessons … but this will be at the expense of the democratic option and freedom of opinion.” He added: “We had indications that the Islamic movement would win.”

Fatah used to dominate student councils in the West Bank.

The Islamist Hamas movement which governs the Gaza Strip hailed the results as “a rejection of the normalization” and “security coordination,” a reference to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority’s ties with Israel.

 

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