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Elections in Palestine: Interpreting the Results

February 2006

On January 25, 2006, Palestinians went to the polls to elect members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. This was only the second parliamentary election since 1996 and despite obstacles and barriers created by the ongoing Israeli occupation, the elections were, by most accounts, free and fair with approximately 76% of eligible voters participating.

The final results of the Palestinian legislative elections show a resounding victory for Hamas, which won 74 out of the 132 seats, giving them a clear majority. Fatah won 45 seats and independent candidates took 13 seats.

Much has been made of these results and Hamas’ watershed victory certainly opens a new chapter in the history of the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, we should be careful to see these results for what they are. They are not a broad mandate for Hamas positions.

This election was, in more ways, a vote of no confidence for Fatah, and a clear signal that the Palestinian people are unhappy with the status quo, especially the continuing Israeli occupation. Under Fatah’s leadership, the Palestinian people saw little improvement in their own lives and were fed up with the corruption and cronyism that marked much of Fatah’s long hold on power. Hamas, running under the banner of change and reform, capitalized on these feelings of frustration by promising to rid the PA of corruption and bring about economic improvement.

Our friends at Madre have a Q&A that provides some interesting insight on the context and potential consequences of the Hamas victory.

In responding to the Hamas victory, some argue that participation in electoral politics is often a moderating influence on groups. However, unless a vibrant and engaged civil society pressures governments and ruling elites, holding them accountable at all times, even democratic electoral systems are open to manipulation.

We do not have to look far beyond Washington, D.C. to see the broad overreach and extreme positions on a range of foreign and domestic policy issues that electoral politics allows partisan groups.

The U.S., despite all its posturing around the promotion of democracy in the Middle East, is now threatening to withhold aid to the Palestinian Authority because of Hamas’ win. This is not the appropriate response. Now is not the time to withdraw support to the Palestinian people, effectively punishing them for having participated in democratic elections. Please take a moment to contact your representatives.

During this upcoming period of transition and change, Grassroots International remains committed to further strengthening Palestinian civil society. We believe our partners’ commitment to education and empowerment, community-led development and human rights is the foundation for building a just peace in the region.

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