New Nablus Mayor: 'The Elections Have Created a Better Reality'

The new mayor of the large West Bank city of Nablus, a Hamas supporter, is kindly, a fluent English speaker who glories in his Israeli friends, imports Mercedes cars and has a huge portrait of Yasser Arafat behind his leather armchair. One of his first decisions in office was to hire the services of an American consulting company for help in running his city.

Adli Yaish was elected about a month ago by a 76-percent margin as an independent candidate who supports Hamas, after militants attempted to assassinate his predecessor, Ghassan Shaka, killed Shaka's brother and brought about his resignation.

For years, the well-to-do Yaish headed Hamas' charity organization in Nablus, thereby winning residents' support. Last week those residents decided to send five Hamas candidates to the Palestinian parliament, out of six spots allotted to the city.

In an interview with Haaretz in his office yesterday, Yaish said he believes Hamas will have a greater "obligation to the public" than other leaders have previously had.

"I support Hamas because they are less corrupt, more genuine and more professional in their work," he said.

"Hamas will organize matters better. Hamas might not be able to solve the bigger problems, but it will be able to solve the daily social problems. It's not just Hamas, but also the other factions, that now have better representation in parliament. The new representatives were elected by the public in a democratic fashion, and they will have an obligation to the public, not to Abu Amar or Abu Mazen, who appointed them. Beforehand, everyone was Fatah - council members, prime minister, the ministers and the chairman, and there was no supervision. Now the situation will change for the better."

A tense quiet pervaded Nablus yesterday. In the alleyways of the marketplace, where Israel Defense Forces troops come at night to capture wanted suspects, Hamas flags fluttered in the wind, a kind of green roof over the stalls weighted down with merchandise. The line of people waiting at Aqsa Sweets for knafeh, a Middle Eastern cake, was long.

On Saturday, militants from the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades milled around and fired shots of protest in all directions to demonstrate against the Fatah leadership's failure in the parliamentary elections.

Many citizens amassed outside Yaish's office yesterday to ask the new mayor to take care of their problems. One Fatah activist came to ask for a donation for his wife's kidney-transplant surgery.

Meanwhile, Yaish spoke out against a possible boycott of the Hamas leadership: "Israel, the United States and Europe must understand that the elections have created a better reality," he said. "They must not boycott the new leadership. Israel must stop treating us the way a master treats a servant, only because it is strong. Here I am strong, I am the mayor, but I do not take advantage of it. I care for the residents and therefore I can walk around without bodyguards and without fear. I hope the Israelis will also stop thinking only about power."