By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Al-Wafa’ Islamic Bloc (affiliated with Hamas) has achieved a historic victory in the Birzeit University Student Council elections, held on 18/5/2022, as it won 28 out of 51 seats, while the Yasir ‘Arafat Bloc, affiliated with Fatah, won 18 seats, and the Progressive Democratic Students Pole (al-Qutub), the student arm of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), won five seats. Notably, the Islamic Bloc obtained 53.1% of counted votes compared to 35.4% for Fatah’s youth movement, Shabiba.
Although this victory is not the first for the Islamic Bloc, it is the largest qualitative victory. The Islamic Bloc in Birzeit had previously won for the first time in an alliance with leftist forces in 1993; and throughout 1996–2007, it won seven out of nine elections, while Fatah’s Shabiba won twice. Throughout 2014–2020, the Islamic Bloc won four times, Fatah won once, and the two lists ended in a tie once.
Indeed, the Islamic Bloc has enjoyed strong presence in the Palestinian universities, even before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and before the launch of Hamas movement. It has been winning or competing over first place in Palestinian universities since late 1970s.
This victory was won at a time when Hamas is suffering various forms of harassment, persecution and distortion, whether by the Israeli occupation or the PA leadership and its security forces in the West Bank (WB). This victory was won despite the threats made by the Israeli intelligence to the students’ parents so that their children would not vote for the Islamic Bloc, and after the arrest of eight leaders and cadres of the bloc prior to the elections. However, it is confirmed that the university administration has provided a free environment for the students to express their will freely and fairly.
It seems that after 15 years of Fatah dominance in WB and the relentless attempts by the PA to marginalize Hamas, this policy has failed to impact the new generation. For Hamas is still a major powerful force that has major impact on the popular, unions-related and political equation, and this is due to the strength of its intellectual and political discourse, and its leadership of armed resistance, especially in Gaza Strip (GS). In addition, the peace process and the Oslo Accords adopted by Fatah have failed, and so did the Ramallah-based PA in expressing the minimum aspirations of Palestinian youth. The atmosphere that followed the strong performance of the resistance in the Sword of Jerusalem Battle, as well as, Fatah’s disruption of the Legislative Council elections and the Palestinian reconciliation process, have clearly affected the student elections results.
The Fatah movement mobilized many of its potentials to run for the Birzeit elections, because of their great symbolism and since they are an important indicator of the Palestinian popular mood. Therefore, the impact of the loss was great, and the news circulated that some leaders in the Ramallah region submitted their resignations, while some of them harshly criticized the policies of Fatah and the PA that led to the Birzeit elections outcome. Others pointed to the discipline and good organization of the Hamas cadres, and that there were students who belong to Hamas or have voted for it, who are the children of some Fatah cadres or figures in high positions in the PA and its apparatus.
Remarkably, some have demanded more restrictions on Hamas and its cadres and opposed their access to fair employment opportunities. The Palestinian community was also angered by the attack on the leader of the Islamic Bloc at Birzeit University, Mu‘tasim Zalloum, who excelled in the Shabiba debate before the election. Zalloum was arrested by the Israeli forces and was put for “suspicious” reasons in a prison section for Fatah prisoners, who beat him in a premeditated and calculated manner with extreme cruelty.
It appears that several Fatah leaders, instead of criticizing the policies that led to the decline of the movement, considered the solution of their problems by engaging in more repression and violence against opposing trends, while insisting on the same disastrous path.
The PFLP maintained its relative position, with its student branch obtaining five seats (888 votes). It has maintained its lead among the Palestinian left, getting much higher votes than the student unity blocs of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (132 votes), and the Progressive Student Union (76 votes), which both failed to pass the elections turnout threshold.
Perhaps, what increased the strength of the PFLP among the Palestinian left is its clear policy against the peace process and the policies of the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); its boycott of the last Central Council; and its increasing harmony with the resistance line, specifically Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), issuing joint statements.
In addition, six Palestinian forces in GS issued a statement calling to activate the student elections, and Hamas, the PIJ, the PFLP and the National Initiative, the PFLP-General Command, and the Vanguard for the Popular Liberation War (Al-Sa‘iqa) participated in the signing of the statement. The statement stressed the need to achieve a “national student consensus on holding student elections in all universities in GS, on the basis of full proportional representation.” This is initiative must be encouraged and implemented, and efforts must be made to remove all obstacles. For there were problems and objections related to the electoral system, the method of calculating votes and seats and the possibility of holding elections simultaneously between the universities in GS. These obstacles could be removed if the intentions are sincere, especially since activating union and student work serves in vitalizing the Palestinian national project, activating popular action and introducing youth leaders and symbols.
Lastly, the Birzeit elections have two main implications; the first of which is the failure of the “Dayton’s baby battalion” project versus the success of the “Children of Salahuddin” project! The occupation with its might, and the PA with its tools, subjugation, security coordination, the consumer environment it has embraced, besides the administrative and moral corruption, did not succeed in having a generation, who accepts the Oslo Accords or the peace process. Rather, a stronger generation emerged from the “pressure cooker,” more committed and religious, more spiritual and revolutionary and ready for more sacrifice.
The second implication is that the resistance is firmly rooted in the minds and hearts of the Palestinian people, and that it is an inspiring platform by itself. Consequently, the strong performance of the resistance had an impact on the election results.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 30/5/2022