What is the significance of Hamas’s winning the Palestinian elections of January 2006?

  March 28, 2022   Read time 3 min
What is the significance of Hamas’s winning the Palestinian elections of January 2006?
Hamas’s triumph in the 2006 elections was a complete shock for all parties concerned, including Hamas itself.

Hamas’s plan was to win a large enough number of seats, around 40 to 45 per cent, to enable it to play the role of the guardian of the Palestinian people’s rights but without bearing the direct and ultimate responsibility of the government, which because of the Israeli control was highly undesirable. The general thinking was by winning this share of seats Hamas would easily form coalitions with other smaller leftist opposition groups and would be capable of blocking any future compromises made by Fatah. The ‘dirty’ business of day-to-day governing would still have been left to Fatah, but it would have been hobbled politically in its negotiations with Israel. The outcome of the elections, however, was a landslide victory, with Hamas winning almost 60 per cent of the seats. The defeat of Fatah was resounding.

The reasons behind the Hamas victory are multiple. In the first place the movement harvested long years of devoted work and popularity among Palestinians. At least half of the voters supported Hamas outright for its programmes and declared objectives. The other half were driven by other forces. The failure of the peace process combined with the ever-increasing Israeli brutality had left Palestinians with no faith in negotiating a peaceful settlement with Israel. The balance in the debate surrounding peace talks versus resistance was teetering, as the date for the elections came nearer and nearer. The notion of ‘peace talks’ was clearly losing ground, but there was no clear and definite support for the ‘resistance’ concept. The latter was vague, and many Palestinians were wary about its meaning and mechanisms. But the frustration of the peace talks took its toll and contributed largely to the defeat of the Fatah movement, the main force behind and upholder of the Oslo Accords and all that resulted from them.

Another major factor that helped Hamas in winning these elections was the failure in almost all areas of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. Not only did it fail externally in the peace talks with Israel, it also failed miserably internally, in managing the daily lives of the Palestinian people. Mismanagement, corruption and theft were the ‘attributes’ that came to be used to describe top leaders, ministers and their high-ranking staff. As unemployment and poverty reached unprecedented levels, the extravagant lifestyle of senior Palestinian officials infuriated the public, and it was the elections that empowered the people to punish those officials. Thus the elections proved to be the reaping season for both Hamas in its victory, and Fatah in its defeat.

It is easy to refute any suggestion that the Palestinian people voted for Hamas primarily on religious grounds. There was certainly no overnight popular conviction in favour of Hamas’s religious or even political ideology. Christians and secular people voted for Hamas in various constituencies side by side with Hamas members and exponents. Hamas members also supported Christian candidates and won them seats in the parliament. Hamas itself appointed a Christian to its cabinet as the minister of tourism. The diverse nature of Hamas’s voters confirmed that people were voting for Hamas as the nationalist liberation movement that promised change and reform on all fronts.

The victory itself is of paramount significance not only for Palestinians but also for Arabs, Muslims and beyond. At the Palestinian level it is a historic turning point, where a major shift in leadership has taken place. For the first time in more than half a century an Islamist group – grounded in national liberation – has moved into the driver’s seat, replacing the secular leadership that had controlled Palestine’s destiny and national decision-making process for decades. This fundamental change, furthermore, was realized through peaceful means and without violence, giving Hamas and all Palestinians a great sense of pride that they have embraced democracy and respect its outcome. It also gave them the chance to revisit the strategy over the conflict with Israel, which had been designed and pursued by the Fatah movement. For Hamas, this victory has represented the greatest challenge that the movement has faced since its inception. Almost overnight, all Hamas’s ideals and slogans have been brought down to face realities on the ground. It could be safely said that the post-elections Hamas will be considerably different from the one before them.

Write your comment