Hamas supporters wave the terrorist movement's flag during a student rally at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, May 19, 2022. Credit: Flash90.
Hamas supporters wave the terrorist movement's flag during a student rally at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, May 19, 2022. Credit: Flash90.

Hamas campus political wins raise concerns for Fatah’s future

The Islamist movement is coming out on top in student elections.

Hamas secured crucial victories in two recent student council elections at major Palestinian universities, pointing to growing discontent with the Palestinian Authority, its leader Mahmoud Abbas and the ruling Fatah Party.

Palestinian officials acknowledged that election results at Birzeit University near Ramallah and Al-Najah University in Shechem (Nablus) indicate Hamas’s increasing popularity among Palestinians.

Birzeit is the Palestinian Authority’s most prestigious university.

“The election results reflect well the political balance of power within the territories of the Palestinian Authority, and indicate,” in their opinion, “the rise of Hamas at the expense of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, which is fading,” sources said.

At Birzeit, the Hamas-affiliated “Loyalty” bloc secured 25 out of the 51 seats, while Fatah’s “Yasser Arafat” bloc managed only 20 seats. The remaining five seats were obtained by the Democratic Progressive Student Pole (DPSP), which is affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist organization, which opposes the Palestinian Authority.

Similarly, at Al-Najah, Hamas emerged victorious with a narrow margin, capturing 40 seats compared to Fatah’s 38 seats. The DPSP secured the remaining three seats. This outcome is notable since Al-Najah’s student body of 22,000 makes it the largest Palestinian university. It has historically been considered a Fatah stronghold.

The elections saw a participation rate crossing the 75% mark, emphasizing the significance attached to the results among Palestinians. Approximately 65% of the Palestinian population is under the age of 28, and officials argue that the outcomes reflect poorly on the Palestinian Authority’s political future.

“It must be assessed that the political future of the Palestinian Authority is completely in doubt while Hamas manages to establish itself among the young students, from whom leadership will come the Palestinian future,” Palestinian sources said.

The university election results reinforce opinion polls showing widespread dissatisfaction with the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas personally.

Palestinians have not held national elections since 2005 and Abbas is now in the 18th year of what was supposed to be a four-year term. Since then, he has canceled several attempted elections amid Fatah-Hamas disagreements, most recently in 2021.

The university elections took place against the backdrop of Israeli counterterror operations in Judea and Samaria, particularly in the cities of Jenin and Shechem. The increasing number of armed groups operating in the region, including among university students and their supporters, presents an additional challenge to the Palestinian Authority.

P.A. efforts to suppress these terrorist groups have drawn severe criticism, with accusations of collaboration with the Israeli military.

During the election campaign at Birzeit, students alleged that the Palestinian security apparatus attempted to sabotage Hamas’s election preparations, including interrogating more than 100 students belonging to the “Islamic Bloc.”

Hamas has expressed great enthusiasm following its victories, viewing them as a significant step towards consolidating its political power within the P.A. Simultaneously, the group continues to pursue its destabilization efforts, including the operation of terrorist cells from the Gaza Strip, as revealed by recent cases investigated by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet).

A journalist familiar with Hamas’s leadership in the Gaza Strip said “this victory serves the Hamas movement and its political plan because it has more than one meaning.”

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