Hamas Wins Birzeit University Student Council Election for First Time Since 2007

Victory seen as indicating a sea change in West Bank political mood, some observers say.

AFP

Hamas has scored a convincing victory in the elections for the student council of Birzeit University, which is considered the most liberal of all West Bank Palestinian universities and a reliable indicator of the mood on the Palestinian street. The April 22 elections were a focus of interest over the weekend in the Palestinian political arena, with some observers terming Hamas’ triumph as a political earthquake and a sea change in the mood in the West Bank, while others saw it as a localized failure that harked back to the trend that characterized the campus for many years, particularly in the years immediately following the 1993 Oslo Accords.

The Hamas-affiliated Islamic Wafaa’ Bloc won 26 out of the council's 51 seats, compared to 19 seats for Fatah's student party, five for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and one seat for a coalition of other parties. Hamas won most of the student council elections between 2003 and 2007, when Fatah took the lead. Hamas did not contest the elections in 2009 and 2010, when it accused the Palestinian Authority of persecuting it. In 2012 the results were a mirror image of this year, with 26 council seats for Fatah and 19 for Hamas. In 2013 and 2014 Fatah's lead over Hamas narrowed, to 23 versus 20.

Hamas and its supporters consider the student faction's seven-seat lead over Fatah in this year's election an overwhelming victory, so much so that in his congratulatory message to the students, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal heralded it as "the first step in the national Palestinian process of completing the establishment of the Palestinian institutions in the Palestinian Authority and in the PLO and in acting to end the occupation."

Hamas lawmaker Fathi Qarawi said the Hamas victory was not a surprise, since it reflected the true face of the Palestinian people and its support for the resistance, and proved that the PA's policy of excluding and persecuting Hamas in the West Bank was a failure. Other Hamas supporters said the victory represented a triumph for the organization's ideology and for political Islam. Figures in Fatah, for their part, were quick to accept the results of the election and to congratulate their Hamas rivals.

A central Fatah student activist in the Ramallah and Birzeit area who spoke with Haaretz on the condition of anonymity said Hamas took full advantage of last summer's war in the Gaza Strip with Israel to obtain the support of students at the university, especially among freshman. He said the vote reflected the disappointment of younger Palestinians with the absence of negotiations with Israel, the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the failure of Fatah and the PA to bring about real change in the Palestinian arena: "In 2007, after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip the election results were pretty similar but in Fatah's factor, and the young people opposed Hamas policy. Now the trend has been reversed, and that says something," the Fatah activist said.

Fatah leaders, on the other hand, said they have no intention of giving up. They noted that Fatah was still clearly in control of the student councils of most of the big Palestinian campuses on the West Bank, such as An-Najah University in Nablus and Al-Quds University, among others.

It is not clear how the Hamas victory will play out on the Palestinian street, but the election results constitute a definite warning light for both Fatah and the PA.