Hamas's crushing victory in the April 22 student council election at Bir Zeit University shows that the Islamist movement continues to maintain a strong presence in the West Bank.
Hamas supporters on campus won 26 seats, compared to 16 for their rivals in the Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.
The results of the election mean that Bilal Barghouti, who is serving 16 life terms in prison for his role in a series of suicide attacks against Israel, has become the "Honorary Chairman of the Bir Zeit University Student Council."
The Hamas victory came less than 48 hours after its supporters scored a major achievement on another campus: Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron. There, Hamas supporters won the same number of seats as their rivals in Fatah – a move hailed by leaders of the Islamist movement as a "huge achievement."
Besides being a political and moral victory for Hamas, this is a vote of no confidence in Abbas and Fatah.
The outcome of the election on both campuses shows that many Palestinians do not believe in Abbas's political program, particularly the peace process with Israel. Moreover, the results show that many Palestinians still do not consider Fatah a better alternative to Hamas.
In 2006, Fatah lost the Palestinian Legislative Council elections to Hamas largely because of its failure to reform and combat financial and administrative corruption. Since then, Fatah has done almost nothing to draw the conclusions from that defeat.
The same leaders who led Fatah to the 2006 defeat continue to hold key positions in Fatah, ignoring demands for reforms and transparency.
The landslide victory of Hamas at Bir Zeit University came in spite of an ongoing security clampdown by Abbas and Fatah on supporters of the Islamist movement in the West Bank.
In recent months, the crackdown reached university and college campuses, where dozens of students affiliated with Hamas have either been detained or summoned for interrogation by Palestinian Authority security forces.
The results of the Bir Zeit University election show that the crackdown has failed to weaken or deter Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
It is evident, in fact, that Abbas's campaign against Hamas has had a boomerang effect, resulting in increased support for the Islamist movement among Palestinians, especially those living in the West Bank. When you tell your people that the Jews are awful, and do not want peace, and just want to kill Arabs and destroy their homes and holy sites, then people say, "This means Hamas is right. We should be killing the Jews and not making peace with them."
Hamas sees its electoral triumph as a "victory for the project of resistance" against Israel. "This is a referendum that shows the strength of Hamas (in the West Bank)," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "It's also a victory for our project of resistance."
Another Hamas official, Hussam Badran, said that the results of the university student council election "prove that the Palestinian people in general, and the youth in particular, have endorsed our program of resistance." He said the results also showed that Hamas continues to enjoy widespread support among Palestinians.
What the Hamas officials are saying is that many Palestinians continue to prefer the option of an armed struggle to peaceful negotiations with Israel.
Shortly after the Bir Zeit University results were announced, Hamas supporters took to the streets in various parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to celebrate their victory. On April 24, Hamas supporters are also planning a "victory rally" at Bir Zeit University to celebrate the results of the election.
The Hamas victory at Bir Zeit University shows why it is not a good idea, at this stage, to hold parliamentary or presidential elections in the Palestinian territories. Abbas himself has long been aware that a free and democratic election would result in another Hamas victory. That is why he has been in no rush to call on Palestinians to head to the ballot boxes.
But Abbas is not the only one who should be worried about the Hamas electoral victory. This is also bad news for efforts to revive the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. In wake of the Hamas victory, it is hard to see how Abbas or any other Palestinian leader would sign any peace agreement with Israel.
The Hamas victory did not come as surprise to those who have been closely following the anti-Israel messages coming from the Palestinian Authority. The PA's incitement against Israel is one of the main reasons Palestinians have been turning to Hamas.
Hamas has apparently now realigned with Iran, which is "rebuilding relations with the military wing of Hamas." Iran also, it seems, has sent Hamas millions of dollars over the past few months. Hamas shares "the same long-term objectives as the ayatollahs: the complete destruction of the state of Israel," and to that end, wants to undermine and destroy anyone who recognizes Israel.
To avoid this, the Palestinian Authority must first stop its ongoing campaign to delegitimize and isolate Israel. This campaign is being waged through the media, mosques and public rhetoric.
The Palestinian Authority must also maintain security coordination with Israel. The coordination is vital to the PA itself, not just Israel. Without Israel's help, the PA will not be able to prevent Hamas from taking over the West Bank.
Finally, to stop the Palestinians from rallying around Hamas, the Palestinian Authority in general — and Fatah in particular — need to embark on comprehensive reforms. Above all, they need to stop blocking the emergence of new leadership, and get rid of all the icons of corruption and bad government.
Unless the PA does these three things, Hamas's popularity among Palestinians will continue to rise, bringing the Islamist movement closer to taking over the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority is shooting itself in the foot.