Pro-Hamas students at Birzeit University elections (file)
Pro-Hamas students at Birzeit University elections (file)Issam Rimawi/Flash 90

In the absence of Palestinian National Authority elections, the student elections at Birzeit University have become a key gauge of Palestinian Arab sentiment, and despite the campus's historic pro-Fatah leanings the Hamas student list won overwhelmingly on Wednesday.

The university has been very supportive of Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction partially given its proximity to the Fatah-led PA governmental seat in Ramallah, Samaria.

But despite that, the Islamic List led by Hamas gave the Fatah-affiliated list a thrashing, winning 26 seats as opposed to just 19, reports the Palestinian Arab Ma'an News Agency.

The two leading parties far outpaced the leftist Communist list headed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group which came in at five, while an alliance of three smaller leftist parties received just one seat in elections held a day after a student debate attracted thousands.

A full 9,000 undergraduate students voted, with 77% voter turnout.

Hamas's victory was made all the more significant given that Fatah's list has long dominated the student politics on campus; last year Fatah garnered 23 seats in student elections compared to Hamas's 20.

In campaigning for the student elections, Hamas-affiliated students emphasized the terrorist organization's war against Israel last summer, trying to spin the operation as a victory. They likewise criticized Fatah for its security cooperation with Israel.

Polls conducted after last summer's war showed that if elections were held, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would win over Abbas.

Responding to the loss on campus, Fatah spokesperson Fayiz Abu Aita told Ma'an, "we bless the successful elections, the results that every student bloc achieved, and the victory of the Hamas-affiliated bloc."

He said the Fatah-affiliated bloc had failed in the elections, while noting the faction won last month in student elections at Al-Quds University in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis, as well as at Bethlehem University - Hamas-affiliated students reportedly do not take part in the elections at either university.

"This is the democracy we want and accept, and hope for others to believe in and accept it, especially in the Gaza Strip," said Abu Aita.

Fatah and Hamas have long been rivals, particularly after Hamas violently took control of Gaza in 2007 after resoundingly winning in elections. A unity agreement last April notwithstanding, tensions between the rivals have continued to rise.