Hamas Likely to Sit Out on Palestinian Authority's Presidential Election in May

Hamas sources say no decision has yet been made, but most senior officials lean toward forgoing the presidential ballot and running only in the parliamentary election.

Hamas is considering not running a candidate in the Palestinian Authority’s presidential election, which is expected to take place in May 2012, at the same time as elections for the Palestinian parliament and the PLO’s Palestine National Council.

Hamas sources said no decision has yet been made by the organization’s leadership, but most senior Hamas officials lean toward forgoing the presidential ballot and running only in the parliamentary election. Yet Hamas is thought to have a decent chance of winning a presidential race, because PA President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly said he will not run for reelection.

Mahmoud Abbas - AP - 30122011

Marwan Barghouti, the most senior Fatah prisoner being held by Israel, has said he plans on running to replace Abbas. But since he is still in prison, it is not clear whether he will be able to do so.

A Hamas victory in the presidential election could put the organization into a difficult political and diplomatic position, as Israel might well not allow a Hamas president to act freely, and might even arrest him.

Hamas leaders both in Gaza and abroad view Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as a model. The Brotherhood has decided to focus its political effort on running for parliament, not the presidency, and to seek to exert influence mainly in social matters.

Moreover, Hamas’ rule over the Gaza Strip does not bode well for its ability to manage the entire PA, given its diplomatic isolation and its constant conflicts with Israel.

As a result, many senior Hamas leaders are demanding that the movement forgo the presidential election. But its deputy foreign minister, Razi Hamed, told Haaretz that no final decision has been made.

Hamas is also planning to focus on the elections for PLO institutions, where it hopes to at least match Fatah, and possibly even achieve a majority in the Palestine National Council. Its entry into the PLO could persuade several Arab states to end their boycott of Hamas.