An earthquake, a Tsunami; this is how most commentators described the results of the Palestinian legislative elections. Hamas’s decisive victory was a surprise to all including to Hamas.
All are searching for the reasons behind the dramatic collapse of Fatah, who took the lead off Palestinian public life for more than 40 years, and behind the major triumph of the 18 years old Islamic Movement (Hamas).
One need not to forget that in the political competition between the 11 political lists Hamas garnered 30 seats out of 66 (45.5%) while Fatah gained 27 seats (41%) and that leftist secular groups gained 9 seats (13.5%), indicating that a slim majority in the Palestinian society is against Hamas’s socio-political program.
The regional competition played the decisive role in Hamas’s victory. This happened due to the deep fragmentation in Fatah during the election period, where Fatah independent candidates competed against the movement’s official lists giving the united and disciplined Islamic movement a considerable advantage.
Hamas’s ability to garner 45 seats in the regional competition against 16 seats only for Fatah paved the way for the expected transfer of authority to the Islamic movement.
With this factor noted, one can’t deny that Hamas has grown to become the biggest political party in Palestine. In other words, even if Fatah competed as a united and disciplined movement, Hamas would not have gained a majority but would have emerged as the biggest political Palestinian party.
Different from how national liberation movements gain popular support through leading the struggle, the results of liberal democratic elections are heavily dependent on the success or failure of the party in power during a certain period of time. Due to internal and external factors, Fatah, as seen by the majority of Palestinian, was a total failure.
Standing short of providing Palestinians with any tangible political or economical achievements, Fatah resorted to highlighting its history as a resistance movement to gain the support of the disappointed electorates, therefore appeared as a mini-prototype of Hamas; that was by no means convincing to Palestinians.
It is true that the total stagnation of the "peace process" and the deteriorating economy, in addition to Hamas’s success to focus the election campaign around its new wave of moderation and around the corruption and malfunctioning of the Palestinian Authority, played a significant rule in Hamas’s triumph, yet, Fatah’s fragmentation and its poor election campaign added to the confusion of a public thirsty for a change.
The major triumph of Hamas is also a trap. The Islamic movement can no more hide away from its real responsibilities; can no more present itself as the strong alternative to a weak, confused and fragmented Palestinian Authority. The need to provide clear answers to hundreds of questions can’t be delayed. Hamas, who’s running after Fatah to keep providing the Islamic movement with the vitally needed regional and international cover, would find itself in deep water if Fatah turns back and decides to lead opposition against the new regime.
Yet, is Fatah capable to face the challenges of the compulsory shift from power to opposition, and how would this effect the movement that, in the opinion of most commentators, can only survive as a ruling party? Or would Fatah opt to join Hamas as a secondary ally?