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One town doubts Hamas

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The warehouse of Qalqilya Mirrors and Glass sits on a bumpy, chalk-colored dirt road.

When the militant group Hamas beat the ruling Fatah party for control of this Palestinian town of 42,000 in last May's municipal elections, the new councilors promised to pave uneven streets like the one outside Mustafa Juadei's glass business. And while Mr. Juadei awaits the road improvement, he says that potential clients go elsewhere.

Hamas's win in cities like Qalqilya was a harbinger of their surprise Jan. 25 victory in the parliamentary election. But, after experiencing six months of local Hamas rule, Qalqilya was the only district in which Hamas lost to Fatah last month. Now, as Hamas cobbles together the first Palestinian cabinet led by an Islamist party and struggles to secure much-needed aid money, some locals say a Hamas backlash could spread in the Palestinian territories.

"We haven't felt any real change in the city,'' said Mahmoud Hafeth, the Qalqilya Glass warehouse superintendent who complains that the new municipality hasn't prevented higher electricity and water fees.

"It's not only the [lack of] asphalt, it's the wall. It's a municipal wall and it could collapse any time,'' says Juadei. "There are people who had high expectations, but not myself.''

'Reform and change'

Running on a platform promising "reform and change,'' Hamas electoral victories in the parliament and in dozens of municipalities across the West Bank and Gaza reflect anger over public graft, frustration at being encircled by Israel's separation barrier amid a moribund peace process, and infighting among the ruling Fatah party.

Hamas council members in Qalqilya boast of overhauling the city hall bureaucracy and eliminating waste in municipal procurement, while critics charge that promises to build new schools and a new industrial zone have yet to materialize.

To be sure, the challenge of running a government dominated by one party for decades has been formidable.


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