Analysis: Hamas's successful elections highlight Fatah's failures and incompetence

Islamist movement holds key elections while its rivals continue to bicker.

Mashaal 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Mashaal 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas's announcement earlier this week that it has held elections for its political bureau coincided with reports according to which the rival Fatah faction has failed in its efforts to convene its sixth "general conference" to pave the way for internal elections. Hamas's success in holding elections for its key decision-making body stands in sharp contrast with Fatah's failure, over the past two decades, to agree on a similar step. The mere fact that Hamas managed to hold elections while Fatah operatives are continuing their bickering over whether to vote in a new leadership is seen as a severe blow to Fatah. By announcing the election, Hamas has sought to send the message to the Palestinians that the movement is well and functioning despite the war in January and the continued blockade of the Gaza Strip. Hamas has also succeeded in showing the Palestinians that, contrary to reports in the Arab and Western media, the movement is not witnessing a power struggle between the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip and those living in Syria and Lebanon. It's worth mentioning here that for nearly decades, Fatah has been suffering from a power struggle between the "old guard" and "new guard" - a conflict that has seriously damaged the faction's reputation and is seen as one of the reasons why many Palestinians have lost faith in it. Hamas's newly elected political bureau consists of party leaders both from Syria and the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Three Hamas officials from the Gaza Strip, including Mahmoud Zahar, have been chosen as members of the bureau, which is headed by Khaled Mashaal. The names of the newly elected members from the West Bank were not made public for "security reasons." This is the first time that Hamas officials from the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been elected to the movement's political bureau, which oversees the work of almost all of the Hamas institutions and is responsible for making important decisions. Some Palestinians have welcomed the election of the West Bank and Gaza Strip officials as a significant move that would have a 'moderating" effect on the movement. These Palestinians noted that the 'local" Hamas representatives have always been known to be less radical than their colleagues in Damascus and Beirut, mainly due to the fact that officials like Zahar and Khalil Abu Hayeh had, at one stage or another during their lifetime, met with Israelis face to face. Mashaal was elected for another term for the fourth time since 1996. On the other hand, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected in January 2005, is still in power despite the fact that his four-year tenure ended earlier this year. Hamas can now boast that it has a government that was elected in a free election [in January 2006] and a leader who was also elected in a democratic [and secretive] process. Meanwhile, Fatah leaders and activists have not even been able to set a date for convening the faction's sixth 'general conference," which last met about 20 years ago. Fatah's "old guard" is afraid that the conference would call internal elections that would result in their removal from power. They are confident that the voters inside Fatah would cast their ballots for new and young faces and that's why Abbas and his veteran colleagues have been doing their utmost to thwart efforts to convene the conference. Fatah's failure to reform itself and hold internal elections is one of the main reasons why many Palestinians have defected to Hamas over the past two decades. This week, Hamas provided these Palestinians with another reminder why they should keep moving away from Fatah in favor of the Islamic movement. Unless Fatah gets its act together and embarks on a major and comprehensive reform plan, it will be only a matter of time before Hamas extends its control to the West Bank.