Not everyone in Hamas is comfortable with the prospect of Palestinian elections, at least not under current conditions in the West Bank.
Hamas recently agreed to several conditions outlined by the Palestinian Authority (PA) so that presidential and legislative elections can be held in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and the West Bank. Hamas has laid out conditions of its own, and there's no guarantee that PA President Mahmoud Abbas or his Fatah party will agree to the stipulations.
Hamas administers the Gaza Strip, but the rival Fatah and PA control the West Bank. Some Hamas members and activists have expressed concern about the concessions Hamas made and how members in the West Bank could be affected by the elections.
On Oct. 28, Hamas leaders reversed their previous position and said Abbas can proceed to set dates for the elections before all the concerned parties meet to discuss such demands, along with procedures and technical items.
Yet Raafat Nassif, a prominent Hamas leader in the West Bank, wrote Nov. 6 on Facebook that the PA can't set a date for voting before discussing with the factions ways to make the elections a success. The elections should be held on a clear, consensual basis and should comply with the factions' desires, he added.
Hossam Badran, a member of Hamas' political bureau and the group's National Relations Office, told Felesteen newspaper Nov. 7 that freedom in the West Bank must be guaranteed if the elections are to be meaningful. Hamas members there are subjected to systematic daily pursuits coordinated between the Israeli and PA security agencies. Badran noted Israel could affect the elections’ outcome via arrests or not recognizing Hamas' authority.
Some members in the West Bank say they're not sure they can even recruit candidates, who may fear being arrested.
Such positions indicate Hamas members in the West Bank might not be as enthusiastic about holding elections as those in the Gaza Strip, whose leaders said Oct. 28 that the movement is ready and unhesitant to participate.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Al-Monitor, “Consenting to the elections is a strategic decision that has been talked about a great deal within all of the Hamas leadership components, be it in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank or abroad. The leadership consented [to the elections], including Hamas in the West Bank, although its cadre is being cautious about the elections, given the hard conditions.” He added, “All Hamas members, however, will be involved in the elections unhesitatingly."
Hamas activists in the West Bank expressed doubts about the elections on social media Nov. 6, noting there's nothing to guarantee that Hamas affiliates working in the elections won't be persecuted. There were also questions about whether Abbas and his Fatah party would even honor the results if Hamas comes out on top, given they did not accept the results of the 2006 election, which Hamas won overwhelmingly.
Israel detained six West Bank Hamas members of parliament — the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) — from the West Bank in 2006 after it declared the Change and Reform Party (Hamas' list in the last election) a disbanded group. Also, in 2012, Israel labeled the Hamas parliamentary bloc a disbanded group, raided its offices and arrested the employees there — including the parliamentarians.
Nayef Rajoub, former minister of endowments and religious affairs and a Hamas leader in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor, "The problem is not in the contrasting Hamas stances between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Rather, it is in Abbas, whose desire is not to organize transparent elections. [Although] two months have passed by since he made the call, he still has not set the stage for the elections.”
He added, “As [Abbas'] security services continue to arrest and prosecute Hamas members, Hamas [needed] to demand that the PA end such practices before Hamas consented to the elections." That demand was not a precondition, but rather a necessity for the elections' success, he said. "Hamas in the West Bank will not join the electoral race in light of the ongoing hard conditions. It would be absurd to hold elections under such conditions," Rajoub added.
Sari Orabi, a Palestinian writer, researcher and expert on Islamist parties, told Al-Monitor how conditions for Hamas members in the West Bank differ from the Gaza Strip situation. Hamas in the West Bank lacks organizational structure and cadres. He noted that this raises the question of how Hamas would run in the elections and how would it protect its victory if it were to win. This is one reason Hamas in the West Bank doesn't seem enthusiastic about the elections, Orabi said, as it paid the price for the 2006 elections with the arrests and prosecutions of its parliament members by Israeli authorities and the PA.
He further noted that some West Bank Hamas leaders who have been arrested and released reside abroad. So even though they often represent the West Bank on Hamas consultative and executive bodies, since they don't live there anymore, they are less aware of the circumstances. Hamas in the Gaza Strip is stronger than the chapters abroad and in the West Bank, and has based its decisions on its own circumstances and priorities, he added.
However, Badran — the previously mentioned Hamas politburo member — addressed that issue. He was part of the 2011 prisoner exchange with Israel and was deported to Qatar. He indicated Hamas leaders in the West Bank and their positions are an intrinsic part of decision-making within the whole movement.
This seems to be one of the rare occasions in which Hamas in the West Bank is voicing positions that contradict the movement in the Gaza Strip. The hard conditions in the West Bank are probably behind such positions. This could prompt the Hamas leadership to slow down its consent to the PA ideas regarding the details of the elections, as it wants to preserve its unity and oblige the PA to halt the policy of uprooting the movement from the West Bank.