In the wake of the March 26 Palestinian municipal elections, Hussein al-Sheikh, a prominent member of the Fatah party leadership, declared that his party had won a “crushing victory.” Dr. Yara Hawari, a senior analyst in the Al-Shabaka think tank, tweeted in the aftermath of the election: “Many Palestinians in the West Bank are calling the municipal elections a crushing defeat for the official Fatah lists.” English-language readers searching for an explanation of these contradictory assessments were not provided with answers by the WAFA website (the Palestinian Authority’s News and Information Agency). The WAFA website remained virtually silent on the election, with only one vague post.
Our analysis of the election outcome corroborates Dr. Hawari’s judgment: The Fatah Party suffered a landslide defeat in the March election, with a slight improvement over its performance in the December 11, 2021 election.
The March 2022 elections were held in 50 electoral districts. Palestinian electoral lists competed for 632 seats. 185 seats were uncontested – votes for these seats were taken by acclamation in nine districts. The Fatah party won 145 of these seats. Independent lists won 64% of the votes in elections that were contested. Fatah lists won 34.6% of these lists. The participation rate in the elections reached 53.6%.
To declare a crushing victory in the March election, the Fatah leadership added in their electoral tally victories won by official Fatah lists and those won by independent lists represented by some Fatah members or adherents. Fatah’s math is strikingly faulty, turning on a profound misreading of the Palestinian independent list.
A close analysis of the March election results reveals that the official Fatah list won 118 seats (18.6%) out of 632 seats that were contested. The official Fatah list is certified by the Palestinian leadership. The number of unofficial Fatah members or adherents that formed independent lists won 93 contested seats (14.7%). At best, using Fatah’s method of counting official and unofficial lists, the Fatah party won 33.3% of the total vote. Non-Fatah party official and independent lists with no Fatah ties far exceeded the vote totals of the Fatah party, regardless of the inclusion of Fatah-related independent lists in the official Fatah party vote total.
Independent lists with Fatah members or adherents should not be included in the official Fatah list count. Fatah is first and foremost a movement that expresses itself in the form of a party. Polls of Palestinian citizens have consistently revealed strong support for the Fatah movement, which seeks freedom, liberation from the Israeli occupation, democracy and victory. These same polls indicate an equally firm rejection of the current Fatah party leadership. Many Palestinian citizens embrace the Fatah movement while voting against the Fatah Party in elections because of the party’s leadership.
Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research polling data reveals that Palestinians are furious about the values and actions of the Fatah party heads – they see the current Fatah leadership as inept and corrupt. 73% of West Bank and 77% of Gazan Palestinians call for Palestinian president and Fatah party leader Abu Mazen to resign. Palestinian voters supportive of the Fatah movement vote against the Fatah party as a protest against the Abu Mazen and the Fatah leadership. In protest, they form and vote for independent lists.
Family allegiance plays a crucial role in the independent lists. A member of an independent list can support the Fatah movement, seek the interests of the member’s family, and reject the values and policies of the current Fatah party leadership. Even Fatah lists that were uncontested were the result of prominent families dividing the seats using the standard of family size, not a commitment to the current Fatah party leadership.
Independent lists, even those with Fatah party members and adherents, cannot be considered offspring of official Fatah lists. Indeed, even the Palestinian Elections Committee made a mistake when it merged the dissident lists from the Fatah movement with the official Fatah lists. The Elections Committee did not consider the splits within the movement, suggesting that the Fatah vote it tallied is inflated.
The divisions within the Fatah movement will continue to affect the outcome of future elections. The dispersion of the movement’s votes will make it more difficult for Fatah’s official lists to pass the electoral threshold. If Hamas participates in Palestinian elections and collaborates with the Palestinian political left, then the electoral prospects of the Fatah party dim considerably.
The elections in Palestinian universities are critical indicators for determining the electoral future of the Fatah party. Student groups express their anger at the polls by voting against the Fatah party. One illustration: the Fatah Party lost in the student council elections at Bethlehem University to the Popular Front party.
The Fatah movement remains strong. Palestinians have a deep and passionate desire for a healthy and functioning democracy. In the view of many Palestinians, the Fatah party leadership betrays the Fatah movement because it does not represent the values and preferred policies of the movement. Palestinian voters who embrace the Fatah movement and vote against the Fatah party leadership are, like the student groups at Bethlehem University, seeking political leadership that honors democratic values, improves the economy and effectively confronts the Israeli occupation. The Fatah party leadership will sustain its 17-year losing streak unless it is replaced by leaders who are in concert with the values of the Fatah movement.
Eid H. J. Mustafa, Ph.D. is an analyst of Palestinian politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the author of The Issues and Challenges Facing Palestinian Officials in the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Negotiations 2001-2009.
David A. Frank, Ph.D. is professor of political communication at the University of Oregon and is the author of several articles, book chapters, and co-authored a book on the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.