PA shouldn’t hold elections if Hamas has a chance of winning - opinion

If Hamas, a self-proclaimed extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, has a 1% chance of winning any Palestinian elections, those elections should not be held.

 US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken meets with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, last year (photo credit: MAJDI MOHAMMED/POOL VIA REUTERS)
US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken meets with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, last year
(photo credit: MAJDI MOHAMMED/POOL VIA REUTERS)

In the latest poll conducted in June 2022, by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) which is based in Ramallah, the poll revealed unfavorable attitudes toward the Palestinian Authority (PA), its leader and Fatah.

The poll showed that 77% of Palestinians want Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. If elections were held today, Abbas would lose to Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas by 33% to 55% in favor of Hamas. In parliamentary elections, Hamas would win by 36% versus 35% for Fatah. 

Reform the PA, not replace it

The only bright spot for Fatah is that should the imprisoned Fatah member Marwan Barghouti run in the presidential elections, he would handily win the presidency by 61% compared to Haniyeh’s 34%. This leads us to conclude that Palestinians want to reform the PA and not to replace it.

These results like most polls are momentary opinions held by those who are being polled. Often, when people go to vote, they tend to vote differently than when they express their views to a pollster in person or over the phone.

The relative popularity of Hamas is not because of its ideology. Often, the support for Hamas is seen as an expression of frustration because of the lack of progress in the peace process between the PA and the Israelis, and because of the PA’s security cooperation with Israel.

Hamas deputy political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh (R) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (credit: REUTERS)Hamas deputy political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh (R) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (credit: REUTERS)

Of course, there are two other issues of concern to most Palestinians: The advanced age of Abbas, and the perception that the PA is riddled with corruption. Let it be known to all that I and a significant number of Palestinians living in the Palestinian occupied territories or abroad, are not in support of a Hamas administration, even if that means not holding parliamentary and presidential elections for years to come. Why?

As a secularist Palestinian, I would never want Hamas to rule over me. It is because Hamas is a religious movement that would not hesitate to use religion – the Islamic brotherhood’s beliefs – to suppress the civil and political liberties of Palestinians in a harsh manner.

"As a secularist Palestinian, I would never want Hamas to rule over me"

Bishara A. Bahbah

Since 2007, according to multiple reports, Hamas has jailed over 110,000 Palestinians in Gaza. That is equivalent to 5% of the Gaza population. The exponential effect, if multiplied by an extended family of 10, means that 50% of Gazans are resentful of Hamas because of the jailing of one of their relatives. Do Palestinians in the West Bank want to be equably imprisoned and oppressed by a Palestinian government in Ramallah or east Jerusalem?

According to a poll published by Reuters in June of 2015, 63% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were unhappy with the achievements of the Hamas-Israel war of 2014, compared to the human and material losses, Gaza suffered.

HAMAS’S POPULARITY normally increases among Palestinians after it launches rockets and missiles toward Israel, such as in June 2021. Hamas subsequently led Fatah in the polls by 11%. However, according to Dr. Khalil Shikaki, the head of PCPSR, that surge of support dissipates within three to six months, as Hamas fails to deliver on most of its promises.

At one point, according to pollster Shikaki, “50% of Palestinians in Gaza were considering emigration.” That was the highest number ever recorded. That number is astronomical, and is largely due to Hamas’s oppressive rule and Israel’s encirclement of the Gaza Strip. Unsurprisingly, Hamas’s support in Gaza is comparatively lower than it is in many parts of the West Bank. 

Given all the above, any elections that lead to a Hamas win will be a disaster for the Palestinians, many of their democratic institutions, and a threat to people’s basic civil and political liberties. To those in the West Bank who support Hamas, I suggest that they move to Gaza and live under Hamas’s despotic rule.

By comparison, the Palestinian Authority has cooperated with Israel to the point that it has been accused by Palestinians as the protector of Israeli security interests. Additionally, the PA has jailed and, in most cases, inadvertently killed some Palestinians that have opposed it.

A big source of despair among Palestinians is the failure of the PA to make any progress toward a peace agreement with Israel. The PA is not at fault for the stalemate in the peace process. For five years, Israel has been unable to elect a stable government. As Benjamin Netanyahu used to say, “We do not have a partner to negotiate peace with.”

Then came the outlandish era of former US president Donald Trump, who followed blindly the edicts of Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt in their bizarre and hysterical approach to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Finally, for more than two decades, Palestinians had to deal with the triple-faced Netanyahu who, as prime minister, was not interested in any peace agreement with the Palestinians, except for their complete surrender. 

During the upcoming visit of President Joe Biden, he should not exert any pressure on the PA to hold elections under the current circumstances. When former president George W. Bush junior twisted Abbas’s arms to hold parliamentary elections in 2006. Hamas won those elections which ultimately emboldened Hamas to take over the Gaza Strip by force.

Notwithstanding all the above, if Hamas, a self-proclaimed extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, has a 1% chance of winning any Palestinian elections, those elections should not be held. The PLO and by extension the PA should ban the participation of any religiously affiliated (Muslim or Christian) party in Palestinian elections. Yes, that ban should include Hamas because it is a radical political-religious movement.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based Al-Fajr newspaper. He taught at Harvard University, where he was also the associate director of its Middle East Institute. He served on the Palestinian delegation to the multilateral peace talks on arms control and regional security.