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West Bank: Hamas-linked bloc wins second major student election

Palestinian movement sweeps second big university in latest sign of shifting political sentiments
Palestinian students supporting celebrate the Islamic Wafa bloc victory in student elections at Birzeit University, 19 May 2022 (AFP)

The Hamas-affiliated Islamic Wafa bloc won the Birzeit University's student union election in Ramallah on Wednesday in the latest sign of shifting political sentiments in the occupied West Bank.

The Wafa bloc swept 25 seats out of the 51 in the Student Union Council, winning 49 percent of the votes and maintain a plurality of seats for the second consecutive year. 

The Yasser Arafat bloc - the student arm of the Palestinian ruling party Fatah -  came second, winning 39.2 percent of the votes and securing 20 seats.

The Progressive Democratic Student Pole, which is linked to the Popular Front of Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), won six seats.

Yahya Karout, the representative of Wafa and the former head of the student council, told local media the win came despite "restrictions, obstacles and prosecutions" imposed on the bloc's members by Israeli forces and PA security.

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"The arrests by the Palestinian security services affected more than 40 students from the Islamic bloc, while the [Palestinian] security summoned more than 100 students for investigation, but we proved ourselves and confirmed that we will remain on the covenant that the martyrs and prisoners took before us," Karout said. 

He dedicated the win to the family of Musab Shtayyeh, a Hamas member affiliated with the popular Lions' Den resistance groups in Nablus who has been in PA custody since September. 

'Democratic atmosphere'

Beshara Doumani, a Palestinian-American academic and president of Birzeit University, hailed the "democratic atmosphere" in the university after the election results were announced. 

This is the second major university election won by the Hamas-affiliated student bloc this year.

Last week, the Islamic bloc won a majority of 40 seats at An-Najah University in Nablus, in the north of the West Bank, while PA's endorsed Shabiba bloc secured 38 seats, and three seats were won by the PFLP's bloc.

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A Hamas student bloc also won the majority of seats at Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron in March.

The Birzeit and An-Najah elections are considered the bellwether of West Bank politics. The results of these elections are read as a reflection of wider Palestinian society, its position on the PA, and voters' orientations in any broader elections that may be held in the future.

Birzeit University is one of the largest education institutions in the West Bank and maintains its independence from the control of the PA.

With no general Palestinian elections on the horizon, student polls are seen as a "test for measuring public opinion" in Palestine. The last time the PA held presidential and parliamentary elections was in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas scrapped elections scheduled in 2022 citing Israel's refusal to allow voting in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their capital.

But Palestinian analysts said Abbas baulked out of fear that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, would also trounce Fatah across the West Bank.

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