Hamas Fears Palestinian Elections Could Expose Its Waning Popularity

Hamas' concerns about elections mark an erosion of the group's sweeping victory in elections in January 2006.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat resigned yesterday, taking blame for leaks to Al Jazeera of details of peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

Some Palestinian commentators, however, say Erekat's resignation is natural because of the stalled negotiations between Israel and the PA.

Meanwhile, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Abed Rabbo, announced that the PA plans to hold parliamentary and presidential elections before September. But Hamas, which holds power in the Gaza Strip, immediately said it would move to prevent such a vote from taking place in the coastal territory.

The PA's announcement came as Palestinians increasingly question their government's legitimacy. Such criticism has accelerated during the events in Egypt in recent weeks, peaking with the ousting of the PA's patron, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Hamas spokesmen Reuters 25/12/10

Abed Rabbo noted that the changes in the region have encouraged the PA and Hamas "to put disputes aside."

He said conflicts between the two sides can be resolved via discussions that should be held in a new parliament chosen by elections. He called on U.S. President Barack Obama to step up the negotiation process to forge an agreement that would establish a Palestinian state.

But Hamas' spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, announced that his organization would boycott the elections. "We will not confer legitimacy to these elections, nor will we recognize their results," Barhoum said.

Hamas wants the two sides to reconcile before a vote. The Islamic organization fears it could lose its grip on the Gaza Strip in an election as its popularity wanes relative to Fatah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Conflicts between Hamas and Fatah climaxed with Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Since then, the Palestinian parliament, which has a large Hamas majority, has not convened. The parliament's term effectively ended in January 2010, so it currently lacks constitutional legitimacy.

Hamas' concerns about elections mark an erosion of the group's sweeping victory in elections in January 2006. Without Hamas' consent, it is doubtful that elections could be held by September; it would be impossible to hold a ballot in the Gaza Strip.

In addition, Hamas and other political groups are likely to claim that since they did not take part in the elections, the vote does not reflect the political reality and is therefore illegitimate.