AMMAN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has congratulated pro-Fatah students for winning a series of elections at Birzeit University.
Abbas praised the Martyr Yasser Arafat Bloc on the win and for its recent successes in polls at Hebron and in Al-Quds Universities, calling it “a revival of the Fatah movement and a sign that Palestinians are embracing the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s program for an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Student council elections, especially at Birzeit, have often been seen as a barometer of the direction of Palestinian political thinking, and a broad reflection of opinion.
A debate between the student blocs on April 16 had seen competing views aired, with audience responses suggesting little to separate the two largest blocs, aligned with Fatah and Hamas.
In the end, the Fatah students received 4,065 votes and won 23 of the 51 available student council seats, tied with the Hamas list which received 3,997 votes. A university press release noted that the Arafat Bloc would control the council having won the popular vote.
The Fatah list improved its results by 7 percent from last year’s elections, when it lost to the Hamas list by one seat. The left-wing Progressive Students list won five seats, and the dean of student affairs, Mohammad Al-Ahmad, said turnout stood at 78 percent, with 9,041 votes cast in total.
Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, a Fatah international media spokesman and active member of its student movement, told Arab News: “The majority in all the universities gave their support to the Fatah youth movement, and this comes at a very important time. The Palestinian leadership needs support.”
“No Palestinian is ready to compromise the main national causes, including a complete Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands and recognizing the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”
Palestinian writer Jawdat Manaa told Arab News that the results come at a badly needed time for the Palestinian people. “Even this slight win for the Fatah students, will strengthen President Abbas.”
Manaa from the Dheisheh camp near Bethlehem who was active during the first intifada told Arab News that “the victory in one of the last bastions of Hamas in the West Bank is reminiscent of the time in the 1980s when student councils and labor unions were behind the support given to the PLO in the occupied territories.”
Commenting on the elections, Birzeit University President Abdul Latif Abu Hijleh said: “Our students have broken the barriers that suppress the democratic process in Palestine. With historic and responsible young leaders, Birzeit University has been able to maintain the values of democracy and freedom of expression, stressing the importance of maintaining unity in the Palestinian quest for justice and equality.”
“Amid the hardships that Palestine must endure due to political fragmentation and the Israeli occupation, we are required — as an academic institution and part of the Palestinian socio-economic, political and cultural spheres — to approach our basic freedoms and rights boldly and to uphold our academic freedom.”
Hatem Abu Zakari, the head of the Fatah youth movement in Gaza, congratulated all the students and the university administration, calling for “similar democratic practices in all Gaza universities denied this right for 12 years.”