My comment on the New York Times article (below):
The New York Times does a dissersive to its readers by publishing a piece that uses terms such as "obscure," "arcane," and "quirky" to say essentially, "This stuff is too complicated for you readers to understand, so we'll just tell you that it's strange."
Actually, the Palestinian election system (or really half of it) shares a trait with most American elections -- the "first past the post" rule. Simply put, the candidate with the most votes wins without regard to whether the candidate has the support of a majority. In the United States, nearly all U.S. Senators and Representatives are elected this way. In Palestine, half the legislature is elected by a nation-wide party list system with seats awarded proportionately to the wons won, and the other half is multi-member districts. Fairvote (the Center for Voting and Democracy) does a good job of explaining the difference:
In the national legislative election held on January 25th, Hamas won 76 of 132 seats, or 58%, compared to 43 seats, or 33%, for the governing Fatah party. Palestine used a parallel system, electing 66 of 132 seats in multimember districts and 66 on a national list basis. Hamas won 30 of the national list seats, or 45%, while Fatah won 27, or 41%.
But Hamas also claimed 46 district seats, or 70%, versus 16, or 24%, for Fatah. Where Fatah overnominated candidates, Hamas proved more apt at "gaming" the winner-take-all district system. Fatah also may have faced spoilers from other moderate parties and independents.
Assuming the list totals are an accurate measure of national support for each party, Hamas is overrepresented by 25% while Fatah is underrepresented by 17%. Even with the mitigating effect of the list seats, Hamas is likely overrepresented in the full legislature by 13% while Fatah is under-represented by 8%. Had the entire parliament been filled in a list election, neither party would have had a majority, and Hamas would have had to form a coalition with more moderate factions. -- Palestinian Election System Delivers Hamas Majority
UPDATE: Fairvote has created a page about the Palestinian election.