Contrary to 1996 elections, most Palestinian opposition groups decided to take an active role in the planned for January 9, PA presidential elections.

Even when it seems that the Islamic movement will not nominate a candidate for PA chairman, the recently released Shaeikh Hassan Yousif, the most prominent Hamas West Bank leaders, affirmed that the Islamic movement members will head to ballot boxes.

Palestinian Opposition groups learned well the lessons of 1996 elections. They realized that their decision to boycott elections for political and ideological reasons distanced them from the community socio-political life, and paved the way for establishing a one party role system.

Most of the PLO opposition groups paid a heavy price for not taking part in Palestinian public life, they lost much of the support they enjoyed among the public, and were forced to accommodate themselves on the sides of a public system fully dominated by Fatah.

Launching active resistance and forcing a military presence inside the Palestinian occupied territories was the only platform available for them to assert their public influence.

The widespread national and Islamic coordination committees presented a parallel forum to the PA, where opposition groups collectively engaged in the community public affairs, especially as the PA was cracking under the occupation heavy blows.

Yet, the rule the committees played was localized, and produced very limited, if any, influence on Palestinian socio-political life.

Most of such committees were dominated by Fatah, which maintained presence in popular committees through the ‘Tanzim’.

An exception is the Islamic movement, which gained most of its popular support by becoming the leading resistance group, and through being seen by many as the alternative to the ‘corrupted’ Palestinian Authority.

Evidently, the most serious challenge the new Palestinian official leadership faced, came from inside Fatah; the possible nomination of jaild Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi as an independent candidate.

Being the most popular figure among Fatah activists, and enjoying wide respect among opposition groups, Barghouthi presented a major challenge to the unanimously selected PLO new leader Mahmoud Abbas.

His decision not to run came as a relief to Abbas in particular and most of Fatah’s old guards, who dominate the movement’s decision making platforms.

The coalition of the five leftist PLO groups failed so far to agree on one nominee to represent them in the upcoming January 9, elections.

Yet, the Palestinian national initiative, a newly established lefts group, decision to nominate Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a Peoples Party rival, forced the peoples party to nominate its General Secretary Bassam Salhi, indicating that leftist groups are approaching elections more fragmented than ever.

In conclusion, leftist groups don’t represent a serious threat to Abbas’s nomination.

The Islamic movement, which enjoys a considerable public support, is still wavering about what role to play in the coming elections.

If the movement decide to strongly back any of the independent candidates, it would present a considerable challenge to Abbas.

But, the movement is likely to think twice before standing openly against the emerging PLO-PA leadership.

On one hand, Hamas still believes that being in good terms with the official authority is an advantage that should not be let go easily. They still look at the example of Hezbollah and the Lebanese government as the most convenient style of relation between a resistance group and an official authority.

Sheikh Hassan Yousif said on Thursday that Hamas will do its utmost to cooperate with the PLO new head Mahmoud Abbas.

Crossing the red borders by openly challenging the PA-PLO leadership requires more careful calculations and might increase the potential for a future collision.

Also, Hamas knows that even if one of the independent candidates is elected as a president, he/she stands no chance to assume authority in a Fatah dominated PA legislative, security, and civil institutions.

As Barghouthi comes from inside the Fatah establishment, he presented an attractive option for a candidate that Hamas could support. Yet, his decision to step out is likely to push Hamas a distance further from actively participating in presidential elections.

On the other hand, an overwhelming victory for Abbas is seen as worrying by Hamas’s leadership. Therefore the Islamic movement could opt towards providing limited support to one of the independent candidates.