GAZA CITY: The large number of competing lists for the Palestinian elections is being seen as an indication of the people’s “thirst” for change.
Election officials have announced that 36 candidate lists have been approved to run in legislative elections set for next month.
The vote, which precedes a presidential election called for July 31, is part of efforts by the dominant Palestinian movements — Fatah and Hamas — to boost international support for Palestinian governance.
Fatah is facing challenges from dissident factions including the Freedom list, led by Nasser Al-Qidwa, a nephew of the late Palestinian icon, Yasser Arafat.
Before electoral campaigning officially begins at the end of April, unofficial indications have emerged signaling that the Palestinian street will see a heated battle.
During the past few days, social media platforms and local news sites have witnessed a state of sharp polarization.
Those interactions have brought out signs of hostility among the competitors’ programs and their political and intellectual orientations.
Al-Qidwa, who was dismissed as a member of the Fatah Central Committee after a dispute with President Mahmoud Abbas, has sparked widespread controversy in the Palestinian arena.
His statements to a French TV channel on Thursday, opposing what he described as “political Islamism” — in an apparent reference to Hamas — sparked controversy.
Hamas is the main rival to the rest of the secular and leftist Palestinian forces in the elections.
Observers see Al-Qidwa’s move as a “whistle” at the early start of an election campaign, which they believe could witness “hitting below the belt.”
In the interview, which did not exceed 20 minutes, Al-Qidwa said: “All of us, all (Fatah) parties have problems with political Islam or political Islamism in general.”
Al-Qidwa opposes the Fatah and Hamas agreement, under which the elections will be held.
He said: “We are all keen on Palestinian national unity and the restoration of the Gaza Strip, both geographically and politically.
“We insist on this central national goal. But not in the way that has been done so far because it is an unreal and fragile way.”
Al-Qidwa is running for the elections with a list separate from the official Fatah, supported by prominent Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, who has been detained in an Israeli jail since 2003.
Hamas and other parties saw in Al-Qidwa’s statements “an unsuccessful start in the election race toward the (Palestinian) Legislative Council.”
Basem Naeem, a member of the International Relations Office in Hamas, said that Al-Qidwa “is trying to solve his organizational problem and gain personal achievements at the expense of our national unity.”
Naeem added: “It is not permissible for anyone to be an extension of any foreign projects. The Palestinian case is very special and cannot afford to provoke such cheap and expendable strife.”
Hatem Abdel Qader, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, affiliated with the Barghouti, said that these statements “only express Al-Qidwa’s point of view, and do not express the viewpoint of leader Marwan Barghouti.”
Abdel Qader said: “Although we disagree with political Islam in terms of ideas and orientations, we respect it and consider it an essential part of the Palestinian national situation and a partner in the battle for national liberation.”
Another battle is taking place on social media platforms, mainly between Fatah and Hamas, who have reproduced hostile video materials that employ previous statements by officials, most notably President Abbas and the head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh.
Each side is trying to question the credibility of the other and his ability to lead the Palestinian people.
Video clips of President Abbas were widely circulated and their promoters, believed to be affiliated with Hamas, wanted to show his hostility to the resistance and his reverence for security co-ordination with Israel.
Activists believed to be from Fatah countered them with anti-Haniyeh and other leaders in Hamas showing their changing and contradictory positions on political and societal issues.
Political science professor, Ibrahim Abrash, referred to issues concerning Hamas in an article published by websites affiliated with Fatah.
He stated that the Palestinian arena has not yet produced an alternative political party (to Fatah) capable of assuming responsibility and adhering to the minimum set of constants and political rights of the Palestinian people.
“At the same time, the public have experienced the rule of Hamas and what has happened in the Gaza Strip and at the international level,” he said.
These remarks from Abrash prompted the Hamas-affiliated journalist, Issam Shawer, to criticize him.
Shawer said that what Abrash said “has neither sincerity nor respect for people’s minds.”
He only intended to direct people to support Fatah and prevent support for Hamas, Shawer added.
In an article published in the Hamas-affiliated Falsteen newspaper in Gaza, Shawer launched a scathing attack on the PLO.
Shawer accused the PLO of giving up three quarters of historic Palestine, including Jerusalem.
He, meanwhile, defended Hamas’s experience in government, and justified its failures in Gaza with the siege, Israeli wars, and the measures of the Palestinian Authority.
An official list for Hamas and other lists of those close to it are among the 36 electoral lists.
There is also an official list for Fatah. Another list is shared between Al-Qidwa and Barghouti.
One more list is for the dismissed leader of Fateh, Muhammad Dahlan, besides lists of leftist forces.
There are also lists with independent personalities.
Nashaat Al-Aqtash, media professor at BirZeit University, expects heated election campaigns in the coming period among the competing lists, especially between Fatah and Hamas.
Al-Aqtash said that the current circumstances were completely different to that of the situation in the 2006 elections.
He also said Palestinians that “punished and humiliated” Fatah in that election would punish Fatah and Hamas together and humiliate them in the current elections.
Al-Aqtash sees the large number of competing lists as an indication of the people’s “thirst” for change.
At the same time he said that Fatah and Hamas would not achieve “decisiveness” despite the fact that they will win the largest number of seats.