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No Palestine without democracy
Palestinian Authority calls off election, Hamas cries foul
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called off the election of the Palestinian Legislative Council, which was scheduled for May 22. Citing Israel’s refusal to let Palestinians in East Jerusalem vote, Abbas said election will not be held until the Israeli position changes. Reacting angrily, Hamas accused Abbas and Israel of conspiring against Palestinians and their democracy. In reality, however, both Abbas and Hamas are lying.
First Abbas. No election in the world requires a defined geographic area. Millions of citizens of tens of countries cast absentee ballots, especially expats, in addition to military and diplomatic staff stationed overseas.
If Abbas wanted to ensure that the 300,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians (8.5 percent of all Palestinians of the Territories) vote, he could have set up polling stations for them in the West Bank, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and under his authority. Alternatively, Abbas could have arranged for a vote-by-mail for these Jerusalemites, or even kept a few seats empty for them in the Legislative Council, just like Cyprus does, presumably reserving seats for the Turkish minority that lives in Northern Cyprus under Turkish occupation.
But Abbas was not looking for ways to circumvent Israel’s refusal to let Palestinian Jerusalemites participate in the election. He was happy to use refusal as an excuse for killing the election and staying in power indefinitely, especially that polls were showing that his party, Fatah, would have lost to Hamas, just like that last time elections were held in 2006, when the Islamist party beat Abbas by 73 seats to 43.
By suspending election, Abbas guaranteed that the quasi Palestinian parliament — where Hamas commands a majority — remains closed. He also ensured that presidential election, scheduled for July, will also be cancelled, and so will the election of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which presumably represents Palestinians around the world.
By suspending election, Abbas made sure that the status quo remains unchanged, at the time Palestinians are desperate for new blood that can unlock the stalemate with Israel.
However, even if Abbas were to allow elections to proceed and Hamas to win, Hamas could have barely served as the “new blood” required for change. In fact, like all Islamist parties, Hamas lies when it pretends to be defending democracy, a system that cannot coexist with its heavily armed militia.
For Palestine to become a reality, there should be a democratic organization leading the Palestinians. Democracy, for its part, requires free and fair elections, which are impossible with an armed militia around.
With its arms, Hamas can threaten competitors and skew the results of any election. Everyone knows that Hamas is not interested in peace or anything that remotely looks like peace with Israel. Hamas says, out loud, that it seeks to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic State, from River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.
Now here where the Palestinians can do something about this Catch22 situation: They need to uncouple their emotions (destroying Israel) from their interests (living in a democratic state of their own). Once Palestinians realize that radical Hamas cannot be in their mainstream — and should instead be relegated to the fringe with a handful of members in the council and no say in Palestinian policies — then Palestinians will be on the right track to replace the corrupt Abbas, using free and fair elections.
Palestinians can elect those who know what they are doing when dealing with the world and Israel to create a Palestinian state, a state that is not only “not a threat” to Israel, but an ally of Israel. Had the scenario of a Palestinian democracy been in the cards, Israel would have been happy to help Abbas organize election for the Palestinians, not only in Jerusalem, but everywhere.
Israel, however, realizes that Palestinians have yet to understand what democracy means, how it works, how the different officials they elect affect their lives differently,
and why democracy is a prerequisite for peace and a two state solution.
As long as the Palestinian public maintains its current mindset, which keeps Hamas in power, the current status quo will remain, and — unfortunately — Palestinian misery will persist.