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January 28, 2005
Just How Much Juice Has Abbas Got?

Gaza held its local council elections, the first elections ever that included the terrorist group Hamas as a political organization. After boycotting the presidential election earlier this month, these council elections promised to give a better look at the internal politics of the Palestinians. As I reported last night, the Hamas candidate appeared poised to win big, and the BBC confirms that Hamas took over two-thirds of the seats it contested:

Palestinian militant group Hamas has won a huge victory in local polls in Gaza, unofficial results indicate. Seen in Israel as a terrorist group, Hamas appears to have won roughly two-thirds of the seats it contested. ...

In elections held in 10 districts of Gaza this week, Hamas appears to have won 77 out of 118 seats. The ruling Fatah faction of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas won 26 seats.

The BBC is quick to caution that these elections were for city council seats only -- but without a doubt, they have to embarrass the Fatah faction that Abbas represents. Fatah went to great lengths to create the illusion of a mandate, so great that 46 election officials walked off the job to protest the massive election fraud. And Fatah didn't even face serious competition in that election, perhaps one reason why the initial turnout was so low.

In the late hours of polling, observers reported that only 30% of eligible voters had come out to cast ballots. Shortly afterwards, the hours were extended and identification requirements loosened, and the voter turnout more than doubled in that extended time. However, if Gaza gives any indication, it now looks like the Hamas boycott of the presidential election worked. The initial vote got the 30% who voted Fatah, just as in Gaza's council elections; the extended hours allowed the same voters to come back and create Abbas' "mandate".

With Hamas contesting the council elections, that becomes more clear. The Palestinians want the more radical approach of Hamas in dealing with Israel than the supposedly moderate Fatah program. That dovetails with a number of polls showing widespread support for the intifada, as high as 75% in October 2003. While the BBC is right to put the council elections into context, the overall theme appears to have changed little.

This creates serious questions about Abbas' ability to deliver any kind of peace with the Israelis, even if one gives him the benefit of the doubt as to his intentions. It looks as though Abbas only can count on half the popular support that Hamas receives, which means in a truly open election with Hamas' participation, Abbas would get wiped out and Fatah would operate as a minority, opposition party. Ariel Sharon may prefer Abbas as a negotiating partner, but he knows that Abbas is only a middleman. The decision for peace rests on the radical terrorists of Hamas, and that doesn't sound promising in the least.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 28, 2005 7:23 AM

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