# Posted 3:57 AM by Patrick Belton
OFF TO RAMALLAH FOR ELECTION MADNESS: When I was there the night before last, the lions of Manara square had been enlisted as contested territory as much as any Palestinian voter, with supporters of competing factions quickly pasting their posters over those of their competition, and traffic in its roundabout slowing as banners fluttered to the dusty street. Hamas's local lists, chosen it's said by Khaled Mashaal who enjoys a reputation for strategic shrewdness, are where their real strength is; in the local lists, voting is by person rather than by party, and I've spoken with a number of non-Islamists whose family have supported Fateh for forty years, who in this election will be giving votes to particular local Hamas candidates whom they know and respect. A Fateh candidate associated with the Future list tells me that he thinks the unified Fateh list was a mistake; having a young-guard Fateh list to hoover up undecideds and anti-corruption voters would have dulled some of Hamas's support, and possibly swung the election. Two different Abu Mazen aides have gossiped to me that former Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, who enjoys a reputation for pristine cleanliness in the west, resigned not over a point of principal but over a brewing scandal; the same rumour had been spread about Hanan Ashrawi, with whom he currently shares a ticket, when she stepped down from the PLC. (For someone whose reputation in the west is as a clean dealer, his aides are not above a bit of character assassination at bars. They are equally dim about Mohammad Dahlan, favourite of the Foreign Office and State Department to eventually lead a Palestinian state; him they decry as a thug who could solve Gaza's security problems, but only by illiberal methods to which they evince disgust.) Hamas candidates I've interviewed, for their part, are gently talking in terms of 100-year hudna, and taking no stand on their participation in government or stance toward Israel, which they say will be formed after the polls. Arab street gossip on this point is they've been coached by western political consultants, to stick to talking points from which they can't be budged (it's true - nice as they've been with their coffee, I've heard identical talking points from any number of very polite different Hamas candidates by now), and if they must wear beards, at least for heaven's sake not to dye them red, because that looks odd. (This last bit, said by someone sympathetic to Fateh to be a veridical piece of consultancy advice.) An interesting question having to do with the new PLC is that several candidates are almost assured to be elected who are wanted by Israel for one thing or another; there's some question as to how they will be able to travel to Ramallah, or whether the PLC will be able to gavel in meetings closer to them. At a Hamas rally I attended in a village by Ramallah, I was impressed by how close the repertory of the event lay to the political technology of campaign stops by New Labour, or Kerry - the same overloud music to jazz up supporters, the same rhythmic clapping, the same audiovisual background projected on a screen powered by Microsoft Windows. Even now, the same language - reform, with Zahar's Hamas adopting language queerly identical to Cameron's Tories. Does it last? Anyone's guess, but as Dr Adesnik once wrote, rhetoric has an odd way of trapping people into behaving better after elections than they want to.
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