'I voted for Fatah before, but now Hamas is a real competitor because of the failure of the peace process.'
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Taysir Mouqadi, 36, sat attentively at the Hamas opening rally for the Salfit district for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
In front of him, the Hamas candidate, Dr. Nasser Abd al-Jawwad, spoke of the need for change. Next to Jawwad sat the father of terrorist mastermind Yehiye Ayash, also known to Israelis as The Engineer for his ability to make suicide belts before he himself was killed.
Mouqadi, once a Fatah voter, had attended a number of similar rallies that day to try to decide whom to vote for in the upcoming PLC elections.
"I voted for Fatah before, but now Hamas is a real competitor because of the failure of the peace process," said Mouqadi.
The village of Al-Zawiya, which lies next to the Green Line and just below Highway 5 to Ariel, has lost much of its land to Israel's separation barrier, the highway and neighboring settlements. The "siege wall" as it's known locally, is a major platform issue of candidates, as is the increasing lawlessness of Palestinian gunmen.
Freshly plastered Hamas campaign posters vied for space with Aksa Martyrs Brigade graffiti here, as battered pick-up trucks bearing huge posters of candidates' faces blared campaign slogans over loudspeakers.
A tiny party called the Palestinian Front for the Public Struggle posted large signs showing the shadow of a Palestinian fighter holding national flags above a tall cement wall cutting through a village. The wall of a nearby mosque displayed posters of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdul Aziz Rantisi.
In a hall decorated with sparkly Christmas decorations especially for the rally, Hamas candidate Jawwad promised that his party and his leadership would bring more stability and work to halt the fence.
"Look at the Jews," he said, dressed in a grey suit and tie. "They have many parties: Shas, Likud, Labor. Each one is different, but they all have interests of security."
There is only one seat and 11 candidates for the Salfit district in the Palestinian Legislative Council, and the race is tight. Fatah incumbent Ahmed Deek visited his supporters at their homes, where he spoke with The Jerusalem Post , admitting that his party's mistakes could cost him the election. He himself is now running as an independent.
"In the past the Palestinian parliament was a Fatah dictatorship," he said. "Now Hamas is a very strong challenge. But it is Fatah mistakes that have given Hamas such appeal, not their own strengths."
Deek, who served until now as the PLC's Salfit representative, said he was powerless to stop corruption and lawlessness because most of the PLC and the PA ministers were from Fatah. He looked forward to having a diversely populated parliament.
"In the next legislative council there will be many Palestinian factions," said Deek "so we can enforce the law better."
Hamas popularity and expected success in the coming elections worries Israel, America and the European Union even more than it does Deek, because the movement has the destruction of Israel as one of its declared goals. All three have declared Hamas a terrorist organization and have said they will not work with it.
However, Jawwad said that his movement, running on a list called the Coalition for Reform and Change, will work with Israelis.
"Hamas is a pragmatic movement," Jawwad, 40, said in an interview with the Post before the campaign rally. "It will not destroy the agreements in the past between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. If Hamas gets the majority in the Council, it will...do something to achieve a stable situation in the area."
The grey-bearded Jawwad was released last January after 12 years imprisonment in an Israeli jail for membership in Hamas. While there, he earned his Ph.D. from the American Open University near Washington, D.C. "I did my thesis on tolerance in Islam towards non-Muslims," said Jawwad.
Jawwad said Hamas does not need to officially recognize Israel to deal with the Jewish state.
"Israel is a state that exists. If I enter the PLC then I will work with the present situation," said Jawwad as he sat near Ayash's father. "We can make a hudna (truce) for 10 years, then extend it for another 10 years, and then for many more."
Recognition of Israel, he said, would be left "to future generations, not now."
"It's not necessary to acknowledge the Israeli state," he added "but we can live here - all of us, we and the Jews, without problems - for many years."