Who would win an election in Palestine? Nobody knows.

Amid a shaky truce, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans on going ahead with early presidential and parliamentary elections. His goal is to unseat the ruling Hamas government, whose refusal to recognize Israel has meant a cutoff of vital Western funding. What are Abbas’s odds of success? According to a December 14–16 poll by the Palestinian ...

605431_Abbas_0025.jpg
605431_Abbas_0025.jpg

Amid a shaky truce, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans on going ahead with early presidential and parliamentary elections. His goal is to unseat the ruling Hamas government, whose refusal to recognize Israel has meant a cutoff of vital Western funding.

What are Abbas's odds of success? According to a December 14–16 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), Fatah would beat Hamas 42 to 36 percent if the election were today. But Stephen Weber, chief operating officer at World Public Opinion.org, told me that although Fatah probably won't lose to Hamas, the poll’s margin of error (closer to ±4% than PSR's of ±3%) means you can't be sure that Fatah would actually win either.

What's more, PSR's polls have skewed in favor if Fatah in the past. They failed to foresee Hamas's victory last January, predicting that Fatah would receive 42 percent of the national vote to Hamas's 35 percent. Fatah did win 42 percent of the vote, but got only 34 percent of the seats (sub. req'd). Hamas, however, won 44 percent of the vote and 56 percent of the seats. The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority designed the electoral law for its own benefit, but Hamas quickly adapted to the complicated list system and beat Fatah at its own game.

Amid a shaky truce, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans on going ahead with early presidential and parliamentary elections. His goal is to unseat the ruling Hamas government, whose refusal to recognize Israel has meant a cutoff of vital Western funding.

What are Abbas’s odds of success? According to a December 14–16 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), Fatah would beat Hamas 42 to 36 percent if the election were today. But Stephen Weber, chief operating officer at World Public Opinion.org, told me that although Fatah probably won’t lose to Hamas, the poll’s margin of error (closer to ±4% than PSR’s of ±3%) means you can’t be sure that Fatah would actually win either.

What’s more, PSR’s polls have skewed in favor if Fatah in the past. They failed to foresee Hamas’s victory last January, predicting that Fatah would receive 42 percent of the national vote to Hamas’s 35 percent. Fatah did win 42 percent of the vote, but got only 34 percent of the seats (sub. req’d). Hamas, however, won 44 percent of the vote and 56 percent of the seats. The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority designed the electoral law for its own benefit, but Hamas quickly adapted to the complicated list system and beat Fatah at its own game.

Eleven months later, Hamas says it will not participate in Abbas’s early elections on the grounds that they are “unconstitutional.” That’s legally accurate, but Hamas would probably support elections if it was confident of a strong showing at the polls.

If Hamas changes its mind, the movement could win at least a few cabinet spots. If, instead, Hamas does boycott, the organization could slip back into its comfortable role of political spoiler. That’s how it built its popularity. If Abbas really wants to weaken Hamas, perhaps he should hold off on the risky elections idea and give the stubborn Hamas government more time to shoot itself in the foot.

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