Waiting on Hamas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to postpone indefinitely this month’s scheduled elections for the Legislative Council deepened the rift with Hamas, his Islamist rival. Hamas leaders claim that they were not consulted before the announcement, and they resent Abbas’s unilateral decision, calling it a direct violation of an agreement between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah party that led to the current ceasefire with Israel. Abbas’s call this week for Hamas to join a national unity government may only deepen the group’s suspicions.

The original July 17 election date had put Fatah in a difficult position. With its public image tarnished by infighting and corruption, Fatah is looking toward its August 4 convention as an opportunity to unify for the electoral campaign. Hamas is well aware of Fatah’s disarray, and accuses Abbas of postponing the legislative elections for partisan, not national, reasons.

Long the backbone of the Palestinian national movement, Fatah has been the dominant faction in the PLO. Bolstered by the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994, Fatah’s popularity among Palestinians has drained away over the past decade, sapped by charges of corruption and incompetence, as well as by the eruption of the second intifada in late 2000. Fatah leaders are justifiably worried that their party’s current unpopularity and infighting foretell a crushing defeat in the parliamentary election.

By contrast, Hamas has entered electoral politics only recently, but it is fresh from impressive victories in the recent municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza. It is therefore expected to perform strongly in the voting for the Legislative Council, particularly in the Gaza Strip.