Voci d’Arabia

Fatah takes most councils; Hamas wins larger towns

By Arnon Regular

 

Despite the Fatah movement’s technical victory in Palestinian Authority local elections held last Thursday, Hamas scored unprecedented victories and now controls at least 48 local authorities in the territories.

 

After the initial vote count last Thursday night, both PA and Hamas leaders claimed sweeping election victories.

 

Fatah said it had won 55 percent of the seats in the local councils. Even if this figure is correct, it does not accurately reflect Fatah’s situation. Fatah won more seats, but they are concentrated in small, unimportant authorities, while Hamas gained significant victories in most of the larger towns in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

 

Fatah candidates won decisive victories in 38 of the 82 authorities in which elections were held, Haaretz has learned. The 38 authorities have a total population of approximately 230,000. Hamas won in 30 authorities, whose population exceeds 600,000. Candidates who are not clearly identified with either organization and independent candidates won in 12 authorities, with some 70,000 residents.

 

In Atara, near Ramallah, militants took over the polling station and the results of the election are not clear yet.

 

Only seven of the 38 authorities in which Fatah won have more than 4,000 voters – Qabatiyah, Kafr Ra’i, Salfit, Beit Jala, Beit Sahur, Tarqumiya and Abassan, the largest town in the central Gaza Strip (population 19,500, 9,500 voters).

 

In contrast, of the 30 authorities in which the Hamas won, 11 have more than 4,000 voters. These include Qalqilyah – the largest West Bank city where elections were held, Sila al-Hartiyah, Tail, Takua, Samoa, Sair and Beit Ula.

 

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas won in the three largest authorities – Rafah (187,000 residents and 74,000 voters), the Bureij refugee camp (37,000 residents and 15,500 voters) and Beit Lahia (60,000 residents and 22,500 voters).

 

Hamas, which appeared to have the edge over Fatah in the Gaza Strip as well, also won a clear victory in the midsized authorities in the West Bank.

 

Since deciding to take part in PA local elections, Hamas has taken control of 48 authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, whose population totals some 600,000. Fatah has won control of 56 authorities during the first two round of elections. Hundreds of other authorities, where elections have not been held yet, are headed by appointed Fatah officials.

 

During the Yasser Arafat era, the PA decided to hold local elections in stages. The PA chose the authorities where elections have been held so far because they thought, erroneously, that Fatah would be able to score easy wins there.

 

 

Hamas grooms itself to win in upcoming elections

By Arnon Regular

Haaretz (Israel)

 

“We’re losing our patience with the murders and robberies,” says Dr. Mohammed Azal.

 

Azal, a lecturer in engineering at Nablus’ A-Najah University, is emerging as the Hamas political leader in the city. He made the comment about being fed up with crime about a month ago. He added: “The responsibility to protect the residents is entirely that of the Palestinian Authority, and if it fails to protect people, we’ll do it.”

 

Though the Israel Defense Forces stages frequent incursions into Nablus, where the army operates the strictest roadblocks in the West Bank, the thorn Azal is speaking of is the Fatah gangs’ reign of terror.

 

“We demand to know on what the PA wasted 30 percent of its budget for 2005, which was earmarked for security,” he said.

 

Azal threw himself into overt Hamas activity immediately after Yasser Arafat’s death and gradually built up the organization in Nablus. Supported by Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas’ Syrian-based political bureau, Azal is one of dozens of new leaders who have popped up all over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They are conducting a campaign aimed at turning the prestige Hamas built up before and during the intifada into political capital.

 

While the PA and Fatah leaders are busy with internal power struggles and frustrating efforts to make contact with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the United States, Azal and other Hamas leaders have held more than 150 election rallies in the West Bank and the Strip. The gatherings consist of daily mass receptions for the families of prisoners and of intifada victims, marking the anniversary of the assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and those of Abdel Aziz Rantisi who succeeded him and others.

 

After four and a half years of arrests, assassinations and closures, the potential energy of Hamas, which formerly focused on various charitable organizations, is now flowing into the mosques, prisons and the military wing with the aim of satisfying the Palestinian public’s hunger for change.

 

The campaign was launched after the Hamas decision in the summer of 2002 to participate in the political arena. “Hamas saw (Yasser) Arafat’s decline even before the intifada. We had grave doubts regarding the public status of (Mahmoud) Abbas and his colleagues, who were appointed by Arafat but had no contact with the street,” says a West Bank Hamas leader.

 

Hamas has won significant victories in the local elections held so far in the territories. It managed a clear majority in 11 of 36 towns and villages and sweeping victories at universities in Gaza and Hebron. Fatah won slim victories in the remaining universities.

 

This strengthens the impression that even if Hamas fails to achieve an overall victory in Thursday’s local elections and in the parliamentary elections due in a few months, it will probably win in significant districts and take large bites out of Fatah’s hegemony in others.

 

In addition to the violent power struggles in the present elections, the two organizations are locked in battle over every power base, no matter how small. Even elections in refugee youth clubs end with shooting incidents or some other kind of fracas.

 

The entrance of Hamas into the political arena is a strategic move that is destined to change Palestinian politics completely.

 

“This is not a change of position but a change of the ball park and tactics. The objective in any elections is to prevent a certain party (meaning Fatah) from obtaining exclusive power over political decisions,” says Sheikh Hassan Yousef in Ramallah.

 

Formerly a local leader in his city, Yousef is now known throughout the West Bank. Three weeks ago he was the only Palestinian from the territories who managed to enter the Temple Mount, while none of the senior Fatah or PA leaders succeeded in doing so. He and Sheikh Hamad Bitawi, Hamas’ spiritual mentor in the West Bank, take part in daily rallies in the West Bank.

 

Hamas observers say that no trace of the organization’s doctrine about “Palestine as a Waqf (Muslim religious trust) from the sea to the river” remains in these rallies. Instead its leaders speak of a “struggle against the occupation,” a “long-term hudna based on the 1967 borders” and – of course – about the magic word “reforms.”

 

Nablus residents are tired of the armed Fatah gangs led by crime bosses and identify them not only with the Fatah but with the PA’s security forces. By way of contrast, the Hamas leaders who have been holding the recent mass rallies in Nablus appear in suits and ties, with their beards well-groomed. Addressing audiences of tens of thousands of people, they bring a political message of change, responsibility and judgment.


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