More than 120 Fatah activists in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are running as independents in …

According to the Palestinian electoral system, half – or 66 members – of the Palestinian Legislative Council (the parliament) are elected on a national list. The other half are running as candidates in their district of residence. The inquiry revealed that the number of independent Fatah candidates in each district is greater than the number of official candidates, and in some cases the local candidates are stronger. According to Palestinian law, the threshold for a parliamentary seat is 2 percent of the vote. Since there is no „remainder” agreement by which extra votes are given to another party, votes may be „wasted” and detract from Fatah’s strength. In Jerusalem, for example, 39 candidates from all the organizations are running for six seats (two of which are reserved for Christians). As of yesterday, 19 candidates were known to be Fatah activists running independently, while five were running on the official Fatah list.


Gaza Strip Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, who is running in Khan Yunis, called Sunday on Fatah supporters to pressure independents to drop out of the race. „Every vote for these candidates is like a vote for Hamas,” he said. Dahlan and others did manage to persuade a few dozen candidates to withdraw, but there are still 180 left. In recent weeks Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas also met with a number of independent candidates, but was unable to dissuade most of them from running. Hamas, on the other hand, has fielded a clearly defined number of candidates in each district. Hamas is expected to garner a majority on the district lists, especially in Nablus, the Hebron area and the Gaza Strip, which together will send 39 local representatives to parliament. In Ramallah, seven different Fatah campaigns are running separately and sometimes against each other. Facing off against them are only four Hamas candidates, headed by Sheikh Hasan Yusuf, in jail in Israel, running a single campaign. Fatah activists say they believe only two Fatah representatives will be elected in Ramallah, with its electorate of 105,000, to Hamas’ three. Monday, the last day for official campaigning, Fatah activists began streaming to the organization’s center-city headquarters. „That’s the way it always is with Fatah,” Ziyad Abu Ayn, a senior Tanzim activist in the area sad. „As long as the danger is not immediate, Fatah doesn’t wake up. But now the activists know what’s at stake.” „The voters should know that Fatah goes to the mosque to pray to Allah, while Hamas goes to the mosque to use Allah,” he said. Hamas, Fatah officials signal interest in forming coalition With polls showing Wednesday’s Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections still too close to call, Hamas and Fatah officials signaled on Monday an interest in joining together in a coalition after the vote. Hamas is contending for the first time in the parliamentary election. The Islamic group, popular among Palestinians for suicide bombings, its anti-corruption stand and charity work, is expected to make a strong showing. Hamas officials said that even if they win a majority, they would prefer lower-profile cabinet posts and to let Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) deal with the Israelis. That would likely rule out a Hamas-run government, an alarming prospect for Israel and the West that would spell trouble for future peace prospects. „We will not put obstacles in the way of Abu Mazen, but we want to correct his policy, to support him in how he can bring more rights for the Palestinians,” said Ghazi Hamad, a prominent Hamas ideologue and candidate in Gaza. Israel refuses to negotiate with Hamas and says the group must disarm and abandon a charter calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. Hamas: Talks with Israel not taboo Hamas raised the possibility on Monday of future negotiations with Israel through a third party, an apparent softening before the Palestinian elections of the militant group’s rejection of any talks with the Jewish state. „Negotiations are a means. If Israel has anything to offer on the issues of halting attacks, withdrawal, releasing prisoners … then 1,000 means can be found,” senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar told reporters. As an example, he cited contacts the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah held with Israel, via German mediators, for the release of Lebanese held in Israeli jails. „Negotiation is not a taboo,” Zahar said. „But the political crime is when we sit with the Israelis and then come out with a wide smile to tell the Palestinian people that there is progress, when in fact, there is not.” However, there were mixed signals coming from Hamas leaders on Monday. The group’s exiled supreme leader, Khaled Mashal, ruled out talks with Israel. „We don’t have to make concessions to satisfy Israel,” he said in a television interview. „Israel respects us when we are strong … This requires a long battle.” Sheikh Mohammed Abu Tir, second on the Hamas national list for the Palestinian parliamentary election, told Haaretz recently that Hamas would „negotiate [with Israel] better than the others, who negotiated for 10 years and achieved nothing.” Rice: U.S. would have problems dealing with Hamas U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday Washington would have practical problems dealing with Hamas after the Palestinian election because of its U.S. classification as a „terrorist” group. Some U.S. diplomatic sources have said a big win for Hamas could prompt the United States to scale back contacts with the Palestinian Authority. A senior State Department official said the United States would not deal directly with members of Hamas in a new government. Rice said there were problems because the Islamic group did not recognize Israel and had not renounced violence. „In addition to the fact that the United States won’t change its policies towards Hamas, the practical problem is that the (current) Palestinian leadership in the roadmap is committed to a renunciation of violence, committed to dismantling terrorist organizations, committed to a peaceful road,” said Rice. She said any discussions the United States had with a new government would have to be with a Palestinian Authority which was committed to a „peaceful path”. „It is not possible to have, and I am paraphrasing here, one foot in terrorism and the other foot in politics. It simply does not work,” said Rice. In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a monthly news conference it would be difficult for the West to negotiate or talk with Hamas „unless there’s a very clear renunciation of terrorism.” Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union’s external relations commissioner, said in Brussels the EU would not rule out working with a Palestinian government that included Hamas, provided it sought „peace by peaceful means” with Israel. Asked if her position could be seen as giving Hamas de facto recognition, Ferrero-Waldner replied: „We are not there at all. „Hamas is on the terrorist list … It is very important not to interfere with the elections, and also to uphold a series of principles. I don’t think it is about parties, it’s about principles,”