Today, we have the odd spectacle of the Israeli government announcing it will not permit Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to participate in the upcoming elections as long as Hamas participates. One thing I find horribly ironic about all this is that Israel prides itself on being one of the few Mideast democracies. Yet it seems to be doing just about everything in its power to ensure that Palestine will not become one. Of course, the ostensible reason it’s opposed to such democracy is Israel doesn’t like one of the parties participating: Hamas. Gee, I wonder how Israel would feel if the United States said it would end all aid to that country if it allowed a specific party to run in elections. Ouch, you Israelis wouldn’t like that, you say? Then imagine how the Palestinians are going to respond to this new outrage?
An even odder aspect of this announcement is that it’s entirely possible that Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah are colluding with Israel to cancel the elections since the Palestinian political party is in such utter disarray. First, Hamas made a much stronger showing than expected in the most recent round of municipal elections. Second, Marwan Barghouti is flexing his political muscle (even from an Israeli jail) by announcing a “Young Fatah” slate to compete with Abbas’ Old Fatah slate. I’ve heard commentators say they fully expect Barghouti and Abbas to iron out their differences before national elections begin next month. But Abbas has got to be petrified that as of now Braghouti would outpoll him, that the two Fatah factions would divide the vote and thus sweep Hamas into power. This possibility is frightening for everyone involved (except Hamas). While I too find this prospect frightening, I also find it bracing because a Hamas victory would put it to a severe test. Either it would become a governing party willing to make pragmatic decisions to advance national interests; or it would continue, even while governing, to try to be a revolutionary movement of armed struggle. If it attempts the latter option I predict it will fail miserably both as a governing party and as a revolutionary movement. This is essentially the pose that Arafat tried to maintain to his dying day. Didn’t work for him either.
At any rate, Fatah says that if the East Jerusalemites do not vote then there can be no elections.
I think an excellent indication of whether the Israeli refusal to allow the vote was Israel’s brilliant idea alone will be Secretary of State Rice’s response. If she is furious and makes her displeasure known to Israel publicly, then we’ll know this was Sharon’s doing. But if we hear a tempered response from State, then we’ll know that this is what all parties (including the U.S.) want.
If the latter turns out to be true it will be a very sad day for Mideast (specifically Palestinian) democracy. First, this would be the second cancelled Palestinian election. Second, it will indicate that Israel will not permit real Palestinian democracy. Third, it will signal that Bush’s supposed democratic agenda for the Mideast is entirely built on desert sand.
Of course, Israel’s justification for its decision is that East Jerusalem is sovereign Israeli territory and that its residents come under Israeli control. This belies the fact that Israel allowed these same Palestinians to vote in the last elections in 1996. And it further reinforces the notion that Israel intends to strangle East Jerusalem by cutting off all transportation, economic and political links with the West Bank and Gaza. This in turn would ensure that Israel controls Jerusalem in toto and in perpetuity.
Can anyone think of anything more depressing for the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian peace?
Andrew Schamess says
Thank goodness you wrote something about this, Richard. I agree completely that Israel is making a decision here that is both unjust and unwise. It’s true that armed groups usually do not participate in elections. But I see no other way to overcome the factionalism of Palestinian politics than by holding free and fair elections that allow the Palestinian people to choose who wil represent them and what policies they support. Without a properly elected leadership, there is no one who can commit the Palestinian people firmly to any course, whether it is peace or war.
“a Hamas victory would put it to a severe test. Either it would become a governing party willing to make pragmatic decisions to advance national interests; or it would continue, even while governing, to try to be a revolutionary movement of armed struggle.”
That’s it exactly. If Hamas were to win an overwhelming majority; and if it committed the Palestinian government to a policy of war with Israel; then Israel would be justified in defending itself militarily. As things stand now, though, the Palestinian government is committed to a negotiated settlement, and the war is being made by factions. If the elections take place it will force a debate in Palestinian society – and ultimately, a resolution – of this question. Then Israel and the International Community will be able to respond to one policy, not multiple competing agendas.
Israel’s approach – forcibly disarm and, in effect, eliminate Hamas – is unrealistic. It’s not a tiny terrorist group, it’s 40% of Palestinians. And the fact that there is a large armed resistance is as much Israel’s fault, for prolonging the occupation and settling the territories – as it is the fault of any extremist/Islamic sentiments indigenous to the Palestinians. Abbas is correct that Hamas must be integrated into the political process of a democratic state.
I think that Israel’s leaders know that the demand of disarmament is unrealistic. Israel has certainly made effective use in the past of a strategy of imposing impossible prerequisites for negotiation while pursuing its own agenda unilaterally.
It seems to me Abbas has been quite committed to the democratic process. I hope he’s not looking for excuses to cancel elections – that would be a disastrous move for his own credibility among Palestinians. But of course, he’s sometimes hamstrung by his own party power-brokers, who are the ones that stacked the slate in the first place and precipitated Barghouti’s departure.