Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections

RAMALLAH: The Hamas-affiliated Islamic bloc won student council elections at Birzeit University in the West Bank on Wednesday, beating rivals Fatah in a hotly contested vote.

The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the Fatah-backed bloc with 3,379 votes only won 18 seats.

Five blocks contested 51 seats, while turnout was 78.1%.

The students witnessed an intense debate between representatives of the rival blocs the day before, with the policies and programs of both parties coming under criticism.

The Islamic bloc has led the student council in recent years.

Their Fatah-backed rivals say they are paying the price for the Palestinian Authority’s mistakes in terms of corruption, nepotism and security coordination with Israel, and frequently lose elections.

A day before the vote, seven senior students from the Islamic bloc were arrested by an Israeli undercover unit, which generated sympathy for the group and translated into votes, experts tell Arab News .

Ghassan Al-Khatib, the university’s vice president, said the student council vote is an indicator of Palestinian public opinion and political balances in Palestinian society “due to the credibility, integrity and of democracy in the Birzeit elections”.

Mohammed Daraghmeh, a veteran Palestinian writer, told Arab News that Birzeit students are not influenced by professional interests or work, so the electoral process takes place “in a democratic atmosphere and with high integrity”.

He added, “If Hamas wins, the streets will support it and be biased against it. If Fatah wins, that means the streets are with them.

Daraghmeh said Fatah and Hamas are making great efforts to win support from the students.

The election “helps Hamas strengthen its political discourse and shows that Palestinian public opinion in the West Bank supports its path and its political line”, he said.

Meanwhile, Fatah “wants to defend the legitimacy of the Palestinian political system in light of its failure to hold Palestinian general elections.”

Elections at Birzeit are held every two years, with around 15,000 students voting for 51 seats. There was no voting in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The secretariat of the administrative body of the council is composed of 13 members.

Birzeit was established in 1973 as a public university and is the only academic institution in the West Bank that allows Hamas to carry out its activities and policies without interference from Israel or the PA.

A number of prominent Palestinian leaders have graduated from the university, which offers 36 bachelor’s and 13 master’s programs, and employs 500 teachers.

Students from the West Bank and a few hundred Palestinians living in Israel study there.

Basem Naim, a prominent Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, told Arab News that the political group sees the student vote as “a vital indicator” because it points to the direction of future generations.

“The elections at Birzeit University are an essential platform for Hamas because most Palestinian leaders are university graduates. Therefore, their strength today indicates the kind of future leaders of the Palestinian people in all sectors and fields,” he said.