Students backing different candidates gather for an election debate at the Bir Zeit University premises."
The Palestinian polity is clearly divided between Fatah and Hamas, with Fatah dominating the West Bank and Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip. It seems that the divide goes deep down into the younger generation as well going by the student’s council election at the Bir Zeit University in the West Bank and the An Najah National University in Nablus. The candidates backed by Hamas won in both the places. At Bir Zeit University, the Hamas bloc won 25 seats and Fatah 25. The Leftists won 6. At An Najah University the margin was narrow, with Hamas winning 40 seats and Fatah 38. The debates that preceded the elections at Bir Zeit University reflected sharp opinions and arguments from both sides. It can be said that the younger generation is politically poised and that this is a good sign for the future of Palestine. As a matter of fact, Bir Zeit University vice-president Ghassan Al-Khatib took pride in the fact that the students’ council elections which are conducted in a fair fashion and are confined to the university is a good preparation for the democratic responsibilities of young Palestinians. He said that the aim is to “accustom our students to democratic life, pluralism and accepting other opinions. Therefore, these elections are considered the best practical exercise for democratic competition.”
It is indeed a laudable aim and the university elections seem to serve that purpose ideally. But it has also been seen that there is a settled pattern to the voting behaviour. Most of the students seem to have voted in the same way that their parents had when they – the parents – were at the university. So, there seems to be an underlying tradition that is reflected in the voting behaviour. We are familiar with this phenomenon in many of the Western countries. In the United Kingdom, there are traditional Conservative Party voters and there are traditional Labour Party voters, even as there are traditional Republican and traditional Democrat voters in the United States. It means that many families from one generation to another stick to particular political preference. Many political scientists are likely to argue that this is good because it provides political stability. The argument then can be extended that there are now traditional Fatah voters and traditional Hamas voters. The Leftists seem to be in a minority.
Right now, Fatah and Hamas seem to be loggerheads for various reasons. Hamas blames Fatah for being ineffective negotiators and corrupt. Fatah will counter this by saying that Hamas is too hot-headed and it does not look far into the future. And it might be said that each side has a legitimate point of view. But given Palestine’s peculiar situation, with the Palestinian territories broken into two, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and with Israel imposing stringent conditions which makes life miserable for Palestinians, this provokes Hamas and other radical organisations to resort to military action, which is futile given the unequal military strengths of Israel and the Palestinians.
While Fatah and Hamas can have their different political belief systems and political strategies, it is necessary for them to come together with a common agenda which will help Palestine attain statehood. Of course, statehood is not something that will be granted for the asking. Israel has put every roadblock it is capable of to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. Though all international observers, including the United States, European Union and the United Nations have been talking of a two-state solution, none of them is willing to accept that Israel is the biggest roadblock in the way of Palestinian statehood. Fatah and Hamas can have their legitimate differences, but there is need for them to come together and stand together to achieve Palestinian statehood. And they need to formulate a common strategy to achieve it.