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Hamas election boycott leaves West Bank Palestinians with only one choice

Campaigning begins today for West Bank local elections this month. Hamas might have done well in some cities, like Nablus, but its boycott means rival Fatah is already the de facto winner.

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Municipal elections in the West Bank are still three weeks away, but the self-styled patriarch of Nablus politics, Ghassan Shakaa, speaks as if he is already in the mayor's office.

He describes one of his key plans – an after-school program for teens who, he laments, currently languish in coffee shops – as if it's a sure thing.

"We have already started to engage in discussions with the youth of Nablus themselves and we have asked them to discuss among themselves what they need and what we can do for them,'' says Mr. Shakaa, a veteran leader of the West Bank's ruling Fatah movement.

Shakaa may be justified in his confidence. With Hamas, one of the two main Palestinian political movements boycotting the elections, he has a good shot.

He was mayor of the ancient city for a decade after the launch of Palestinian self-rule under his friend and late leader Yasser Arafat in 1994 and is a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's executive committee. The Shakaas have been at or near the fore of Nablus politics since the 1950s, and he hopes his experience and family associations will catapult his National and Independent Nablus list to victory.

But prominent as the Shakaa name is, the Oct. 20 elections in Nablus and 103 other West Bank locales are at least as much about who is not running as who is.

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