More than million Palestinians live in Hamas-controlled areas

Hamas was the big winner over a splintered Fatah in the fourth round of local elections in the Palestinian Authority, held Thursday, according to the results published Saturday by the PA Central Elections Committee. Since December 2004, elections in the Gaza Strip and West Bank have taken place in 263 local authorities, whose combined population is 2.3 million. Six weeks ahead of elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (the parliament) on January 25, Fatah has the lead in 121 towns and villages as opposed to Hamas’s 81. However, Hamas took a number of large and important towns, with a population of 1.1 million, as opposed to 700,000 that live in communities where Fatah won. The Hamas win includes the cities of Lahia, Bureij and Rafah, with a total population of 250,000, although Fatah has contested these results in court, which is expected to set a date for new elections. This latest round of elections, which may serve as a barometer of public opinion ahead of parliamentary elections, show that Fatah has lost its lead on the Palestinian street in the Gaza Strip and to a certain extent in the large West Bank cities. Another 500,000 people are living in 64 towns and villages in which independent candidates won or where no clear victory went to either of the major organizations. Some 900,000 people live in communities where elections have not yet been held, including Hebron and Tul Karm in the West Bank and Gaza City and Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip. Hamas won in 29 out of 42 mostly small local authorities in which elections were held, and swept six of seven larger municipalities, including Jenin, Nablus and El-Bireh near Ramallah, where it will not need to form a coalition with Fatah. Hamas also won in three large villages – Kabalan near Nablus, and Sanur and Yamun near Jenin. In Jenin Hamas garnered eight out of 15 seats on the city council. Fatah shares the remaining seven seats with independent candidates. In Nablus Hamas won 13 of 15 seats, with the two other seats going to lists affiliated with Fatah. In El-Bireh, considered a Fatah stronghold, nine seats went to Hamas, as opposed to four for Fatah and two to independents. In secular Ramallah, the only city where Fatah garnered a majority, this was due to the reserving of seats for Christian candidates according to Palestinian election laws. Hamas, running as an independent list, got 1,732 votes, coming in only 169 votes behind the Fatah list, with 1,899 votes, and giving each organization five seats on the city council. Fadwa Barghouti, wife of the jailed popular leader Marwan Barghouti, ran on the Fatah list. A leftist list came in third with 1,696 votes. According to Palestinian election laws, a number of Muslim members on each list will have to give up their places to Christians, to allow eight Christians to take their seats on the council. Three of the six major West Bank cities, Jenin, Qalqilyah and Nablus appear to be new Hamas strongholds, in addition to impressive gains by the organization in Bethlehem and Ramallah, where Fatah and independent candidates maintained their majority due to the reserving of spots for them. Hamas also won in most of the large villages and rural towns in the area of Hebron, Nablus, Qalqilyah and Tul Karm. The results of the fourth round were a direct consequence of the polling booths being opened seven hours after the split in Fatah produced separate lists, one headed by jailed popular leader Marwan Barghouti and the other by PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Thus, most of the Fatah activists did not take part in organization efforts on election day. Continued separate lists and a number of Fatah members running independently are expected to be very bad for the organization’s showing in the elections.