Palestinian Elections Produce Murky Results

Local elections in the West Bank produced results quirky enough for both Fatah and Hamas to claim victories in the 104 municipalities polling yesterday. Even the media coverage seems confused, as the New York Times suggests that the results favor Hamas while the Washington Post argues the opposite. The difference between the two comes from the lack of representation for Hamas in many of the elections, while Fatah had candidates in all localities.
The Post’s Scott Wilson takes the macro view:

The Palestinians’ ruling Fatah movement won a majority on 51 municipal councils in elections held Thursday in 104 West Bank towns and villages, according to official results scheduled to be released Saturday that show the rival Hamas movement taking clear control of 13 councils.
Thursday’s vote was the third round of municipal elections in the Palestinian territories. Voting in the Gaza Strip, where Israel recently ended its 38-year presence, was postponed to give election officials more time to prepare ballots.
In total, Fatah won 54 percent of the municipal seats, while Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, won 26 percent. The remaining seats were won by several smaller secular parties and independent candidates, leaving 40 councils without a clear majority party. Fatah and Hamas could increase the number of councils in their control by forming coalitions with the smaller parties in the weeks ahead.

Wilson gets this correct as far as he goes, but it has to be somewhat disappointing for Fatah that it couldn’t control a majority of the councils when Hamas didn’t field candidates in a significant number of communities. Given that Fatah claims a voter turnout of around 85 percent, this appears to give Mahmoud Abbas a less-than-stirring boost of confidence going into the delayed parliamentary elections.
The New York Times takes the more nuanced view of the election, noting that Hamas does pretty well for an underrepresented party:

The elections, the third of four rounds of local votes, encompassed about 10 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with the largest cities still to vote.
Preliminary tallies show that the main Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, rebounded slightly from earlier rounds of voting, taking 54 percent. Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by the United States, took about 26 percent, a strong showing in the West Bank, where it has been historically weaker than it has in Gaza.
Fatah appears to have won majority control of 61 of the 104 councils, while Hamas appears to have won 28 of them. Voter turnout was about 85 percent, according to the Palestinian Election Commission. … Complicating the analysis, Hamas had candidates running in only 56 councils, meaning that it won half of the council races it entered.

That success rate of 50% outstrips that of Fatah, which presents a real problem for Abbas. If Hamas can launch itself as a national party, it could easily beat Fatah in a fair election — a demonstration of the Palestinian desire for total war against Israel. Abbas will find himself out of power and living at the whim of a militant organization bent on genocide, hardly the kind of political “party” that engages its opposition with anything but bombs and bullets. Abbas will have to choose between corruption and tyranny, thanks to the Palestinian electorate which his organization has poisoned for decades with anti-Semitic and anti-Western propaganda.
The irony of Yasser Arafat’s partner in terrorism slowly getting hoist on his own petard would be delicious if it weren’t for the terrible consequences it will cause. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Hamas appears to have the true sense of the Palestinian people — they want all-out war, and they have no idea how close they are to getting their wish.
UPDATE: Hamas won’t challenge the election results, although they criticize Fatah’s analysis of their meaning. Meanwhile, Brant at SWLiP wonders when the Pali Party has finally hit Last Call.