Israeli leaders paid almost no public attention to the Palestinian election, although it could have yielded a united Palestinian leadership that could present a common front in peace talks with Israel. Conversely, if the vote gives Hamas a greater role within the Palestinian government, it could also affect Israel’s ability to coordinate with the Palestinian Authority, as Hamas does not recognize Israel and by Israel and much of the international community considered a terrorist group.
In contrast, many Palestinians are closely watching Israeli politics, said Professor Abusada, who said it was “a sad thing” to see Israeli elections sit in such a recurring loop. But at least Israelis have had the opportunity to vote so often, he said. “We could not for a long time,” he added. “It makes us feel cynical about our own political system that we can make no change.”
Within the boundaries of Palestinian politics, the prospect of an election nonetheless shook up some of the alliances and assumptions of the previously moribond Palestinian government. For the first time in years, Palestinians can imagine bringing the dormant parliament buildings in Ramallah and Gaza City back to life. And Fatah, which has long been the driving force of the Palestinian national movement, now stands not only before Hamas, but also for other sections of secular Palestinian society.
Confirmed or potential challengers include Salam Fayyad, a former Palestinian Authority prime minister; Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah security chief now living in exile in the United Arab Emirates; and Nasser al-Kidwa, a former Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, and the cousin of Yasir Arafat, Mr. Abbas’ predecessor.
All three have said they want to help form new alliances to compete against Fatah and Hamas, while allies of Marwan Barghouti, an influential Fatah militant who is being jailed in Israel for five counts of murder, said he consider it.
In Gaza, Hamas is threatened by a generation of young Palestinians struggling to find work. The unemployment rate in Gaza is about 50 percent, mainly due to the blockade that Israel has placed on the enclave to undermine Hamas’ military activity and rocket production. If Hamas is replaced by a unity government, some Gazans hope, the new leadership could defuse at least some of the tension with Israel and improve living conditions.