RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hamas supporters celebrated Thursday a landslide student election win at a top West Bank university, results experts said further point to the Islamist terror group’s growing support in the Palestinian territories.
Hamas’s Al Wafaa’ Islamic bloc won 28 of the 51 seats on the student council at Birzeit University, marking the first time candidates aligned with the Islamist terror group have gained control of the body.
The bloc aligned with Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas’s secular Fatah movement won just 18 seats.
The general Palestinian population has not been to the polls since 2006.
Abbas scrapped elections scheduled for last year, citing Israel’s refusal to allow voting in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians seek as their capital.
But Palestinian analysts said Abbas balked out of fear that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, would also trounce Fatah across the West Bank.
Birzeit’s vice president, Ghassan al-Khatib, said some saw the campus vote as “a test for measuring public opinion,” with no general elections on the horizon.
Hugh Lovatt, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the Birzeit polls were perceived as a type of bellwether because the makeup of the student body was “seen as more representative of Palestinian society.”
“The fact that you have a democratic mechanism and the voter pool is seen to be representative of Palestinian dynamics — that’s why it matters,” he told AFP.
Fatah used to dominate student councils in the West Bank.
Hamas praised the results as “a rejection of the normalization” and “security coordination,” in a reference to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority’s ties with Israel.
Dr. Fathi Hammad, a member of the group’s political bureau, said “the student movement has proven that (the youth) is the fuel to the revolution.”