West Bank University Election Seen As Vote on Peace Process

Elections for the student council of Bir Zeit University in the West Bank were being viewed, at least in part, as a referendum on the peace process and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The PLO’s Al Fatah wing was expected to win a slim but important victory in elections held Wednesday at the university, near Ramallah.

Although the vote was for the nine-member council, the significance of the contest went far beyond the Palestinian campus.

The contest was the first Palestinian referendum on the peace process since the Israel-PLO declaration of principles was signed Sept. 13.

In the election, students backing Fatah were challenged by an unlikely alliance of candidates backing three rejectionist Arab factions, Hamas as well as the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine, both of which are based in Damascus.

Bir Zeit has long been a center of the Palestinian nationalist struggle and has provided many of the delegates and advisers to the current peace talks.

Recent polls among the students indicated that a majority supported the peace process. More than 2,700 students were eligible to vote.

In Jerusalem, Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini said in an interview published Wednesday in a Kuwaiti newspaper that the Israeli capital should become an open city.

Its future lies in becoming a free, open city that is not controlled by any single country, he said.

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