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Palestinian 'third way' rises

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The new group in Palestinian politics holds the potential to shake up next month's elections, and bears similarities to the upheaval in the Israeli political scene. Last month, Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, left the right-wing Likud party he helped to found and launched a new centrist party called Kadima, Hebrew for "forward."

But whereas Mr. Sharon is banking on Israeli voters putting the conflict with the Palestinians first, the new Palestinian list will focus on an honest government platform - primarily a domestic issue.

"Hamas has 25 to 30 percent of the public's support, but it's not just from religious people. It's people who are not happy with the [Palestinian] Authority," say Ali Jarbawi, a Bir Zeit University professor of political science, and one of the top candidates on the new list ticket. "So you need an alternative, one with a democratic, social, liberal outlook, and that alternative is not Fatah."

"The [new list] will be liberal and will be anticorruption, and that's what's attracting people to Hamas," says Mr. Jarbawi.

But the list faces stiff competition. A poll released Sunday showed the Fatah party holding at 50 percent of the Palestinian vote and Hamas with 32 percent.

The first Palestinian Legislative Council, set up by the 1993 Oslo Accords, was elected 10 years ago this January, and no parliamentary elections have been held since. At that time, the only party that ran was Fatah, Yasser Arafat's mainstream faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Some independent candidates were associated with the communist-oriented PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) or DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine); others ran as independents loosely affiliated with Hamas. But neither the secular-leftists nor Hamas were willing to recognize the Oslo Accords - nor Israel itself - and so did not officially participate in the elections.

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