Fatah official edgy over rising popularity of Hamas

Party representatives accuse the Islamic movement of exploiting the plight of the Palestinians for political gain.

hamas campaign 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
hamas campaign 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Representatives of the ruling Fatah party on Sunday expressed concern over Hamas's rising popularity, accusing the Islamic movement of exploiting the plight of the Palestinians for political gain in the upcoming parliamentary election. "The situation doesn't look good for Fatah," a top Palestinian Authority official here told The Jerusalem Post. "If I were in Abu Mazen's [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] place, I would find a way to postpone the election." A public opinion poll published over the weekend by the Development Studies Program at Bir Zeit University indicated that Hamas could win up to 30 percent of the vote, as opposed to 35% for Fatah. Another poll, conducted by Al-Quds, the largest Palestinian newspaper, gave Hamas 24%, while Fatah got only 21%. Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas's nationwide list for the election, revealed on Sunday that a leading European country was holding contacts with his movement. He did not name the country, but said it was one of the founders of the European Union. Haniyeh said the European country made it clear that it would deal with Hamas if it formed the next PA cabinet. He said several other European countries had dispatched envoys to meet Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, but refused to elaborate. "Some Americans are also talking to Hamas," he added. Said Siam, a Hamas political leader who is running in the election, said he was in charge of holding talks with diplomats who were based in Ramallah and Gaza City. "We have contacts with foreign embassies," he said. "We also have contacts with international organizations such as the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross." Former PA minister Muhammad Dahlan, who is contesting the vote as a Fatah candidate, launched a scathing attack on Hamas and accused it of making concessions on the issue of Jerusalem. He said Hamas was prepared to participate in the election even if Israel barred Arab residents of Jerusalem from casting their ballots. "I was shocked by what I heard from Hamas over the past week," he told reporters. "How can a party give up its principles so easily and quickly?" Dahlan, who was one of the most feared security commanders under Yasser Arafat, said Hamas would restrict freedom of speech if it took over the PA. "The Palestinians can't rely on those who exploit religion for private and factional interests," he said. Dahlan scoffed at Hamas's claim that it would not negotiate with Israel in the future. "I have statements from Hamas leaders suggesting that they are prepared to talk to Israel," he said. According to Dahlan, Fatah has managed to secure the release of some 11,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails since the signing of the Oslo Accords more than a decade ago. Fatah had sacrificed thousands of its members in the fight against Israel in the past four decades, he added. Fatah has been accused of abandoning the armed struggle against Israel," Dahlan said. "But our response came in the shape of the Aksa intifada that was led by [jailed Fatah leader] Marwan Barghouti. About 40% of the martyrs who fell during this intifada were members of Fatah." Fatah officials here expressed fear that Israel's decision to ban Hamas from campaigning in Jerusalem would play into the movement's hands. "This Israeli measure will only strengthen Hamas because it is seen as an attempt by Israel to help Fatah win the election," said a top Fatah leader. "The American and European threats to cut off financial aid to the Palestinians if Hamas wins have also boosted Hamas's chances of winning." PA Interior Minister Nasser Youssef accused Hamas of meddling in the affairs of the PA security forces. He was referring to remarks made by Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, who said his movement would enroll policemen in armed groups that were fighting against Israel when and if it formed the next cabinet. "Our security forces belong to all the Palestinians, not to one faction or warlord or those who trade in death," Youssef said. PA policemen are scheduled to vote two days ahead of the January 25 election.