Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction suffered yet another humiliating defeat at the Bir Zeit University student council elections, held on April 27. Last year, for the first time since 2007, the Hamas-affiliated student list on campus also won the vote.
The results of this year's election at one of the Palestinians' most important universities reflects the growing discontent with Abbas's Fatah faction among Palestinians in the West Bank. Palestinian political analysts said that the Hamas victory is an indication of what would happen if general elections were held these days in the West Bank.
The Wafaa list, which belongs to Hamas, won 25 of the student council seats, while Fatah's Martyrs Yasser Arafat list got 21 seats. A list belonging to the terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) won five seats.
Both Hamas and the PFLP are strongly opposed to any peace process with Israel. They continue to call for terror attacks against Israelis. The results of the election mean that most of the students at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, not Gaza, support groups that have chosen terrorism over peace.
Bir Zeit University, which has 12,000 students, is located only a few miles from Ramallah, which houses the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah leadership. As such, the Hamas victory carries symbolic significance because it shows that even in Abbas's own backyard, he Islamist movement remains as strong and popular as ever.
What Is also significant is that the Hamas victory came despite a massive crackdown by Abbas's security forces on Hamas supporters in the West Bank. The crackdown included university students affiliated with the Islamist movement. Not surprisingly, this crackdown seems to have backfired, driving more university students into the waiting open arms of Abbas's political enemies.
The Hamas victory at Bir Zeit University also shows that it does not matter how much money you pour on Fatah supporters on campus; a majority of students would still prefer to vote for terror groups that do not believe in Israel's right to exist.
The results of the election should be seen more as a vote of no-confidence in Fatah and Abbas's policies than a Hamas win.
Palestinian analysts said that the results reflected Palestinians' distrust of Fatah, a faction that has long been suffering from internecine fighting and splits. The main charge against Fatah is that it has failed to reform and pave the way for the emergence of new and younger leaders.
Sufyan Abu Zayda, a senior Fatah official from the Gaza Strip, commented on the results of the Bir Zeit University election by saying, "Fatah needs an internal shake-up before it faces more defeats." He noted that those who were defeated were not the Fatah-affiliated students, but their leaders.
In recent years, the Fatah leadership in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been torn apart by internal strife. In the Gaza Strip, rival Fatah activists have been beating and shooting at each other. In the West Bank, Abbas has been busy getting rid of his critics in Fatah. The latest victim of Abbas's measures is Gen. Akram Rajoub, the Palestinian Authority Governor of the largest West Bank city, Nablus. Last week, Abbas surprisingly fired Rajoub, who is also a senior Fatah official.
Rajoub's dismissal came days after he walked out of a Passover ceremony organized by the tiny Christian Samaritan community near Nablus. Rajoub and scores of Palestinian dignitaries walked out of the event after discovering that some leaders of the Jewish community in the West Bank had also been invited. Some Palestinians said that Abbas decided to fire the governor because his action seriously embarrassed the Palestinian Authority leadership in the eyes of the international community and threatened to damage relations between the Samaritan community and the Palestinians.
Other Palestinians, however, surmised that Abbas's decision was related to criticism the governor had made against top Fatah officials.
Whatever the reason, many Palestinians agreed that the dismissal of the powerful and popular governor was a sign of increased tensions among the top brass of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah leaderships.
It is precisely because of this internal bickering that many Palestinians have lost confidence in Abbas and Fatah.
The results of the Bir Zeit University elections are also an indication of the Palestinian students' rejection of Abbas's general policies, especially regarding Israel. This is a vote of no-confidence in the Oslo Accords with Israel, the "peace process" and ongoing security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
The 3,481 students who voted in favor of the Hamas-affiliated list want to see the destruction of Israel. Similarly, the he 668 students who voted for the PFLP-affiliated list support terrorism and would also like to see the destruction of Israel. These numbers reflect the general sentiments that have long been prevalent among many Palestinians, including students and professors on various campuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"How can Fatah win any election when it is divided and its leaders are openly saying that they listen to Zionist songs?" remarked Palestinian political analyst Hisham Sakallah. He pointed out that while Hamas supporters on campus ran in the election on a ticket that promoted "armed resistance" against Israel, Fatah leaders were continuing to conduct security coordination with the Israelis.
Hamas correctly sees its victory in the Bir Zeit University election as a sign of growing Palestinian support for its "armed resistance" and the "Al-Quds Intifada" against Israel.
Hamas leaders were quick to celebrate the victory of their list. They stressed that the vote was a severe blow to Abbas, Fatah and all those who believe in any "peace process" with Israel. Buoyed by the victory, the Hamas leaders also called for holding long overdue presidential and parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories. They said they had no doubt that their movement would easily defeat Fatah. "The results of the election (at Bir Zeit University) are a victory for the path of resistance," declared Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.
The Hamas victory provides further evidence of the increased radicalization in Palestinian society. This is the direct result of the ongoing campaign of anti-Israel incitement that continues to be waged not only by Hamas, but the Palestinian Authority and Fatah too, and that is funded in large part by Europe.
Under such circumstances, it is not a good idea to promote the idea of free and democratic elections in the Palestinian territories. Worse, the talk about a renewed peace process and a two-state solution has become a distasteful joke.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.