If Hamas did not participate in the upcoming polls, observers say it would have been immediately outlawed.
During the third quarter of 2020, the Palestinians had been hoping to see an end to internal division, mainly between the Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and its rival secular movement Fatah, which governs the occupied West Bank.
However, on November 25 2020, Fatah announced that it was impossible to reach a reconciliation that ends the division due to Hamas’ rejection to hold Palestinian parliamentary, presidential and National Council elections consecutively.
Hamas insisted that these elections should be held together, fearing that the Palestinian Authority (PA) will allow only the presidential elections to take place that would renew the legitimacy of its President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Fatah president.
After more than a month of meetings with Russian, Turkish, Qatari and Egyptian officials, Hamas received assurances that the PA and Fatah will be committed to holding the three elections, as well as the international community will respect the results of the elections. Hamas, in early January 2021, declared its agreement on holding the elections consecutively.
Hamas was overthrown after achieving an overwhelming majority in the last parliamentary elections held in 2006. Its victory was not respected and resulted in the internal division and isolation of Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since mid-2007.
Israeli aggression and internal political instability resulted in the misery of over 2 million lives in Gaza. However, it is now running for new elections and hopes it will win again.
So why is it going ahead with elections?
“Hamas feels how much the world is hostile to it as it is being put on the same list as Daesh and other extremist organisations in the region,” academic and political analyst from Gaza, Adnan abu Amer, said. “Therefore, it is looking for a constitutional legitimacy.”
The Islamic Palestinian movement is expecting more international recognition in addition to that of Russia, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt. “There has been a new hope for Hamas that the UN, EU and other international organisations might deal with the new political situation in the occupied territories whatever it is as long as it is a result of a free political process,” writer and political analyst from the West Bank, Nawwaf abu Musa, said.
According to Abu Musa, if elected, Hamas would not face the same isolation it faced following its victory in 2006.
“Even at the American level,” he said, “unlike previous American administrations, Biden’s administration is also likely to deal with Hamas if it won the elections. This US administration is committed to Israel’s support, but it seems that it is less interested than previous ones.”
Since 2006, the US, Western powers and regional countries along with Israel have failed to get rid of Hamas. So, this is the time that they could recognise it as an essential part of Palestinian politics and recognise its existence as has happened with the Taliban.
At the same time, if Hamas did not take part in elections and let its rival Fatah movement dominate the new parliament, it would be immediately outlawed and the resistance programme would be abandoned. This is also one of the main reasons that has pushed Hamas to run for parliament.
Losses in Gaza, but gains in West Bank
Hamas lost a lot of its popularity ruling in Gaza as it infuriated people due to its lack of governance and some people see it as the reason for the Israeli-Egyptian siege and the international boycott which resulted in high rates of unemployment and poverty as well as lack of many essential services due to the severe shortages of basic necessities and funds.
However, Hamas believe it is going to win.
“In fact, Hamas has lost much of its popularity in Gaza, but it still has a massive number of supporters who are loyal to its resistance and political programmes and believe they are the best way for the Palestinians to face off the Israeli occupation,” Abu Amer said.
Hamas believe that it has enough support that would help it to achieve victory in Gaza. “People have enough popular awareness that the siege and international isolation are not Hamas’ faults, but they are tools which are being used to undermine the political experience in the occupied territories,” Hamas official Spokesman Hazem Qasem said.
“Hamas still enjoys massive support enough for it to win the elections,” he added.
Akram Atallah, a Palestinian analyst who moved to London in 2019, expected that Hamas would win despite the “misery it inflicted on the people in Gaza,” pointing out that the people still remember the corruption of the PA and Fatah leaders. “Even those who did not see them in Gaza, they are seeing them now in the West Bank,” he said.
Qasem also said that the Gaza residents see very clearly how Hamas members and leaders “are sharing their harsh life” and they were subject to the Israeli attacks the same as all people, noting that several senior Hamas leaders were killed during the Israeli offensives in Gaza after Hamas’ victory in the elections.
“What Hamas has lost in Gaza, it will be compensated in the occupied West Bank,” Abu Amer said. “Gaza, where Hamas lost some of its popularity, has a small number of voters compared to the numbers in the occupied West Bank, where Hamas popularity has been soaring,” he added.
Lessons from the past
Hamas itself believes that its victory in the 2006 elections was the reason for the siege imposed on Gaza.
In 2006 and 2007, Hamas refused to make concessions to any other party regarding the portfolios of the government, but this time, it will. “It will not form a full government,” Qasem said, “it will give the opportunity for technocrats and nominees from other factions. Hamas will not lead the government at all in order to make it not committed to its own political and resistance programme.”
Abu Amer revealed that “there has been an agreement between Hamas and Fatah to form a joint government which could be led by a neutral person.”
Chairman of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, Khalil al-Shikaki says, “Hamas and Fatah will together dominate the parliament without any majority for either of them.”
However, his centre has conducted a recent poll that found Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh getting 38 percent of Palestinian votes if he runs for president compared to 34 percent for Abbas.