Arab News (Editorial)
October 26, 2009 - 12:00am§ion=0&article=127747&d=26&m=10&y=2009

The announcement by Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas to hold elections on Jan. 24 could make Hamas sign a deal with Fatah for Palestinian unity, although Hamas describes this as pressure. It could widen the factional divide further. Seeing he has no real opposition rival, it could give Abbas more years in power. And it might lead Hamas to hold its own ballot in the Gaza Strip, a move that could create two rival presidents, two parliaments and two prime ministers in two separate Palestinian territories. Abbas’ decree launched many scenarios, save one, which should come before all the rest — the creation of a climate of Palestinian peace and stability.

Fatah insists the decree is a constitutional requirement, that Abbas is constitutionally bound to hold elections in January. But it remains unclear how Abbas’ faction intends to organize the balloting in Israeli-controlled east Jerusalem or in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

And while Fatah claims the poll is not intended to turn up the heat on Hamas to forge an agreement with it, and says it still wants reconciliation, Hamas views it as an illegal and unconstitutional step because Abbas’ four-year tenure ended early this year, and that he has no right to issue any decree concerning elections. They add elections can only realistically be held by a unity agreement.

In addition to the chicken-or-egg disagreements over whether elections should precede or follow national reconciliation, Hamas and Fatah also differ on the purpose and goals of elections. Hamas views elections as a way of recapturing the influence and power it garnered in January 2006 over the previously dominant Fatah. Surely, some Fatah leaders, who view Hamas as a strategic enemy whose danger supersedes that of Israel, would like to use the elections as a means to avenge the ousting by Hamas of Fatah militias in Gaza in 2007.

Hamas would like to know if the upcoming elections would be free and fair and accepted by the international community. It has the right to demand that the outcome of the poll be respected not only by Fatah but also by Israel and the rest of the world because when it won parliamentary elections in 2006 recognition from none of these parties was forthcoming. As such, it is essential that national unity and national reconciliation precede elections.

Hence many ordinary Palestinians, as well as intellectuals, are beginning to question the logic of holding elections if these elections are not going to contribute to ending the Israeli occupation. Since Israel has the final say in matters pertaining to the elections, it is unlikely to tolerate the participation of Hamas and other Palestinian factions whose main goal is ending the occupation.

With or without Hamas’ consent, Fatah will hold general and presidential elections but elections are by no means a magical wand that would solve the problems of the Palestinian people in one fell swoop. If anything, they could further complicate the situation. The fact is that, more than two years after simmering divisions boiled over and Hamas fighters expelled Abbas loyalists from Gaza in a week of bloody clashes, the two biggest Palestinian parties have yet to reconcile and two years of Egyptian mediation has failed to bring them together. The general sense is that the lack of trust between the groups will destroy any possibility of making any deal or an election a success.

Moreover, what seems to be forgotten is that the storm between Fatah and Hamas is all taking place under Israeli military occupation and the Jewish state is benefiting the most from the feud.


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