War wins out over politics

October 24, 2012
Sarah Benton

Palestinian Quest for State Should Start With Elections

By the Editors, Bloomberg news
October 23, 2012

Judging by the Palestinians’ first election in six years, you wouldn’t know they yearn for self- determination. Turnout for Oct. 20 municipal polls was just 55 percent. A third of towns and cities had no voting at all for lack of sufficient candidates.

Hamas, the militant Islamic group that opposes peace with Israel, declined to field candidates in the West Bank, which is dominated by the rival Fatah organization. And Hamas refused to hold balloting at all in the Gaza Strip, which it controls.

The Fatah-Hamas bifurcation is impeding more than just local politics. It’s also hindering Palestinian progress toward their goal of independence from Israel. Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has turned to the United Nations to elevate the Palestinians’ status, but the world body can only do so symbolically. To achieve self-determination, the Palestinians will have to negotiate the terms of statehood with Israel. To do that, they must speak as one.

In theory, Abbas speaks for all Palestinians, including refugees, in his capacity as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The legitimacy of that monopoly, however, was undermined by Hamas’ victory over the main PLO faction Fatah in 2006 legislative elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The ensuing fragile Hamas compact with Fatah and Abbas, who’d been elected president of the Palestinian Authority the year before, succumbed to tensions that led to armed conflict and the 2007 split in governance between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The U.S. and others with an interest in a peace agreement have looked to the moderate Abbas to deliver the Palestinians. Yet without a mandate, he has neither the strength to impose his red lines nor the confidence to bend on other issues. Even if Abbas could seal a deal with Israel, he could enforce it only in the West Bank.

Periodically, Hamas and Fatah have pledged to heal the Palestinian schism with a power-sharing accord, but they’ve failed to agree on terms each time. Neither group is eager to give up the undiluted power it enjoys in the territory it controls. For the same reason, the two haven’t delivered on occasional talk of new elections.

Yet fresh elections offer a way out of the current paralysis. If Palestinian negotiators had a unified leadership behind them, they would have firm backing and clear direction. They would be in a better position to deal with the Israeli government that will emerge after elections in January.

Of course, a Palestinian election might produce mixed results, with Fatah and Hamas forced to rule together. In such a case, Fatah would stand a reasonable chance of softening Hamas’ position toward Israel. Otherwise, Israel might extend to the West Bank the harsh sanctions it has imposed on the Gaza Strip, which have contributed to deteriorating living conditions there.

Although Hamas, which is committed to an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, says it won’t recognize or negotiate with Israel, it could nevertheless allow its coalition partners to do so. Having responsibility for the Gaza Strip has already modulated the group. Rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel have significantly declined in recent years; most of those that still occur are launched by groups more radical than Hamas.*

The various election scenarios are less significant than the fact that Palestinian elections are overdue. The terms of both the president and the legislature expired in 2010. That’s the kind of detail that was easily overlooked before the Arab Spring but not so easily now.

Both U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney say they are committed to Israeli- Palestinian negotiations. Yet neither explains how to ensure a legitimate Palestinian partner is capable of winning and making concessions. A more constructive policy would be to encourage the Palestinians to hold elections, to make clear the U.S. would honor any result, and to lean on the Israelis to let voting take place.

There’s no guarantee that the election of a new Palestinian leadership would revive peace talks, but it does offer that hope. In the absence of a fresh mandate, there’s very little of that.

Blow to Fatah in West Bank local elections

By BBC news
October 22, 2012

Fatah won two-fifths of the seats contested on Saturday. But lists led by party rebels gained control of four of the 11 major towns and cities. In a fifth, independents and leftists won.

A Fatah spokesman said the results showed “huge support for the party”.

Turnout for the first Palestinian polls in more than six years was 55%, amid a boycott by the rival Hamas movement.

Three-quarters of eligible voters turned out for the 2006 parliamentary elections and two-thirds for the municipal elections in 2004 and 2005.

Hamas said political reconciliation needed to be achieved before any elections could be held, and no voting took place in the Gaza Strip, which the Islamist movement has governed since 2007.

There were also no elections organised in more than half of the 352 municipalities in the West Bank because of a lack of candidates. Elections in the remaining 82 areas will be held on 24 November.

‘Limited competition’
The majority of the contests in the 93 municipalities on Saturday were between Fatah members, former Fatah members running on independent lists after being expelled for running against official candidates, and representatives of various left-wing groups.

Preliminary results released by the Central Elections Commission showed Fatah’s Independence and Development list, backed by President Mahmoud Abbas, winning 440 of the 1,051 seats contested.

But in Ramallah, the seat of government for the Palestinian Authority, and Jenin, independent lists headed by Fatah breakaways beat the Fatah list.

It was a similar picture in Nablus where the list headed by Ghassan Shakaa, a former Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader, beat that of Amin Maqbul, the official Fatah candidate.

Mr Shakaa, a former mayor of the city who quit Fatah because of disagreements over the selection of candidates, said the election results showed the party was out of touch with ordinary Palestinians.

“Fatah made the same old mistakes,” he told the Associated Press.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas described the polls as a “democratic wedding”
In Bethlehem, where leftists and independents won 9 seats and Fatah 8, a woman, Vera Baboun, is poised to become mayor.

Maysoun Qawasmi, who led an all-women list in Hebron, won 493 votes, which was not enough to secure a seat on the city’s council.

A Fatah spokesman said the results signalled “huge support for the party and its programme”.

But Hamas MP Ahmed Attoun claimed they represented a “victory for the Islamist currents which called for a boycott of these elections”.

“It shows the Palestinian people stand with the choice of having elections based on a national consensus,” he told the Reuters news agency.

There were also protests against the Fatah-dominated PA in the West Bank last month when the government withheld civil servants’ salaries and increased fuel prices as it struggled with a funding crisis.

The Carter Center, a US-based election-monitoring group, said Saturday’s polls were well-administered, but “marked by a lack of political pluralism and limited competition”.

“Despite these challenges, and considering that elections at all levels in the occupied Palestinian territories are long overdue, these polls are a positive but limited step towards the realisation of democratisation in the occupied Palestinian territories,” it added.

From Reuters report, on Israeli reprisal airstrike on Gaza, October 23, 2012

The border bombing was claimed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), one of several small factions in Gaza that often operate independent of the dominant Hamas.

Israel’s policy is to hold Hamas responsible for any attacks from the territory, which the Islamist group has controlled since 2007. Though hostile to Israel, Hamas has mostly sought to avoid direct clashes as it shores up its rule in the face of more radical challengers and reaches out to potential allies abroad.

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