Understanding the Birzeit Elections

By Abdul Sattar Qassem

The elections held at the Palestinian universities, Birzeit and Al-Najah, are considered a good indicator of the popularity of Palestinian factions. The media outlets usually refer to the student union to sense the popular Palestinian feelings towards the Palestinian factions and organisations.

In recent years, the media outlets focused on Birzeit University because its administration believes in democracy and insists on holding elections. As for Al-Najah University, it did not hold elections in recent years, perhaps out of fear of the PA nominees losing to the Islamist movements.

The violation of democratic principles at Al-Najah University has gone as far as the university president dismissing the head of the Employees’ Union and replacing him, while the university employees remained silent.

The Birzeit University student union elections were held on 27 April 2016 and Hamas won 25 out of 51 seats.

The PA list won 21 seats, while the Palestinian left-wing alliance won five. Fatah was very optimistic about its chances of defeating Hamas by a large margin, so it was surprised that Hamas won and reinforced its position that was strengthened by the fact that it won last year’s elections.

Hamas’ victory is not a surprise to those monitoring the Palestinian situation for the following reasons:

  1. Hamas members are being persecuted by the PA security and they are suffering from continued persecution and arbitrary measures, such as arrest and physical torture. They are also being persecuted by the Israeli security agencies, including the pain and sorrow associated with that. The persecution even extends to election nominees, and sometimes even the victors, as the Israeli and Palestinian security agencies continue to harm members of Hamas. This raises the level of popular sympathy with the movement, as the majority of the people see the injustice with their own eyes, and this provokes many questions regarding the PA’s role in reinforcing Israeli security.
  2. The people appreciate the major sacrifices made by Hamas during the Israel wars on Gaza. Hamas proved to everyone far and wide that it works day and night to improve and develop its military capabilities in order to face Israel;. During the three Israeli wars, Hamas proved that it prepared itself and prevented Israel from succeeding in its military campaigns in Gaza. Hamas’ perseverance in Gaza gained it the respect and appreciation of the Palestinian masses and reinforced its presence in the hearts of Palestinians.
  3. The PA is hated by the masses and the people witness its corruption, its close cooperation with the Israelis, and the PA security forces’ activities in support of Israeli security. A large number of Palestinians accuse the PA of high treason.
  4. The PA has taken every chance to harm itself in terms of organisational and financial corruption. It also burdens the people with taxes and fees for administrative transactions and has put them in great financial distress. The problem with Fatah is that it has failed over the years to separate itself from the PA and avoid the harm the PA has caused to the movement’s reputation amongst the people. The truth is that Fatah has been unable to separate itself because it controls the main aspects of Palestinian life in the West Bank in general and the overwhelming majority of government jobs are reserved for Fatah members.
  5. The Palestinian people continue to support the resistance and see no other way of regaining Palestinians national rights other than through armed resistance. The negotiations approach has lost all its justifications and only continues to convince a small group of the Palestinian public. Meanwhile, the resistance approach remains the most rational in the minds of the majority of the people, despite the sacrifices it entails. Moreover, the Palestinian resistance is not accused, to a large extent, of corruption like the PA is and it has been able to gain the trust of many Palestinians.

Despite the PA’s loss against Hamas, it did not receive a small number of votes. In light of the PA’s deteriorating situation and the dangerous accusations directed against it, there is still a large number of people who support it. This perhaps indicates a flaw or imbalance in the level of Palestinian awareness at the moment and the extent of destruction and devastation that hit the general public’s social and moral fabrics.

In any case, the university elections do not constitute a scientific standard to measure the popularity of one party or another; it is just an indicator. Hamas usually receives a higher percentage of popular votes amid university students, but the students represent a limited social group, while general elections represent all social groups.

– Abdul Sattar Qassem is a professor at Al-Najah National University, Palestine. (This article was translated by MEMO from Arabi21, April 28, 2016.)

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