Despite Hamas suffering from arrests and threats from the occupation authorities and the PA, the suffocating crisis it has been living under after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, and the intensification of the siege on Gaza, the Al-Wafa Bloc, affiliated with Hamas, won the elections at the Birzeit University for the third consecutive year. It won 25 seats, which is the same number of seats it won last year, while Fatah's youth movement, Shabiba, won 22 seats, which is one more than last year. Meanwhile, the Progressive Democratic Students Pole (Al-Qutub), affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), went from five to four seats, and this means that the Shabiba won an extra seat at the expense of Al-Qutub.
None of the other blocs affiliated to the other leftist factions won any seats, and this has been the case for years on most university campuses. None of these leftist factions ask themselves or their members and supporters why. But how can factions that have existed for decades be unable to win even one seat?
The question that arises here is: Why does the Al-Wafa bloc win in Birzeit University's elections, but lose or does not run in other university elections?
Before I answer this question, I must point out that the Birzeit University elections have their own significance, given its geographic location in the centre of the West Bank. It is also unique given its role in the national movement and due to the fact that its student body is the most diverse amongst the other universities, as they represent a variety of areas, classes and trends. This means their elections are a general indicator.
The first and most important reason explaining Al-Wafa's victory is the fact that the Birzeit University administration maintained the tradition of democratic practices. This is evidenced by the fact that the elections are much more regularly held than any other university. Moreover, the university administration is not biased in favour of any bloc and does not allow the PA to interfere. It also does not refrain from holding elections out of fear that Hamas will win and does not use its influence or allow anyone to falsify the results. This means the results very accurately reflect the situation in the university.
The second reason for Al-Wafa's victory (as I understood from students who are not affiliated with it) is due to its leaders, in terms of their awareness, activity, and excellence in serving the students. It is also due to their social openness, especially with the female students. This is contrary to the other Hamas affiliated blocs in other areas, as we find in its ranks female students who are not veiled, and this is an important point, as over 64 per cent of the students at Birzeit University are female.
This makes me immediately comment on Hamas' statement regarding the fact that the victory of the Al-Wafa block, in spite of the repression, prosecution and arrests is a victory for the resistance programme. This is completely wrong and we must be careful of this, because within the same logic, it means that its loss in other universities is a loss for the resistance. However, this is not true in either case, at least under the current situation for the simple reason that oppression and arrests are taking place in Birzeit and elsewhere, and the resistance now is in its worst condition. It is greatly besieged in the Gaza Strip, restricted by a truce since 2014, and seems to be used as a tool in the internal struggle and rivalry.
To further defend the Gaza authority, it aims for a long-term strategy for liberation, especially in light of the continued promotion of delusional ideas about a long-term truce with the occupation that may last ten or more years if the siege is lifted in Gaza. In the best case, Israel allows for the establishment of a state in Gaza, in isolation of fulfilling the Palestinian national rights, beginning with the end of the occupation and the establishment of a state in the occupied territories in 1967. It will also be in isolation of the issue of liberating all of Palestine, which Hamas reiterated in its new charter that it would remain committed to despite agreeing to the establishment of a state in the West Bank and Gaza within the formula of national consensus.
Do I mean that the Birzeit University administration and the characteristics of the Al-Wafa bloc are the only two reasons for the victory? No, of course not. The fact that they are two main reasons does not negate the existence of other, less important reasons related to the angry position of the people in general, and specifically the students, towards the model presented by the ruling authority in the West Bank. They are also angry with its security coordination with the occupation, the martyrdom of Basel Al-Araj, the hunger strike of the Freedom and Dignity heroes, and the melting state between the Shabiba and PA list, especially within the security agencies and how the members of the list are chosen without referring back to the will of the students and their free choice.
This has led to an increased number of angry Fatah members and supporters, and they no longer care about their success. Some may even work towards the failure of Fatah. There have also been the consequences of President Mahmoud Abbas' participation in Shimon Peres' funeral and the subsequent statement by the Shabiba at Birzeit University condemning the participation, leading to the dismissal of many Shabiba leaders.
Many students agree that the Shabiba at Birzeit are making more efforts than before to serve the students, and therefore its status has improved, albeit slightly, every year. However, the flaws of the PA casts its black shadows, which requires it to separate itself from the PA. This falls in the context of separating the PA and Fatah, and this has become even more difficult after the seventh Fatah conference reiterated that the group is the PA's party and the party of the staff more than anything else.
To clarify what I mean, I will point out that between 1996 and 2007, when the division occurred, the Al-Wafa bloc has won the elections seven times, while the Shabiba won twice. Since the division, i.e. over the past ten years, the Shabiba won seven times (twice Al-Wafa boycotted the elections) while Al-Wafa won three times consecutively since 2015 with higher results than the year before. This indicates that the Al-Wafa bloc won more times before the division and lost more after.
It is worth noting that, despite the very fierce competition that accompanied the elections in Birzeit, and despite the fact that the debate between the lists witnessed great fierceness, reaching the level of accusations of treachery, apostasy and exchanged incitement, the debaters from Shabiba and Al-Wafa participated together in a demonstration demanding national unity, condemning the occupation and supporting the Freedom and Dignity hunger strikers.
There is one last point that I cannot ignore in this article: since Hamas is proud of its bloc's victory in the Birzeit elections and considers this result a reflection of its popularity everywhere, it appears and can express itself if the atmosphere of freedom and democracy is available, then why is it afraid and does not hold elections in the Gaza universities, despite being in control of it and being able to guarantee honest and free elections? Why doesn't it provide an example that can refute the example presented by the PA in the West Bank?
The failure to hold elections in Gaza's universities makes it the PA's right to boast that it allows elections to be held in the West Bank that can be won by Hamas lists, while Hamas prevents elections in Gaza other than in the Hamas-affiliated Islamic University.
Holding elections on a regular basis in universities, trade unions, popular federations, charities and other organisations, provided that the minimum level of freedom, integrity and honest competition is maintained, and there are no arrests, threats, or summonses (those carried out by the occupation are enough) is an urgent necessity in order for these organisations to perform their national and professional role in the best way possible. This allows them to persevere in the face of the occupation and its plans to dismantle the various Palestinian institutions and organisations so as not to contribute to their role in the battle of freedom, return and independence.
Translated from Quds Net News Agency, 16 May 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.