Outside View: Palestinian election nightmare (UPI) VIA-WASHINGTON TIMES) By Barry Rubin Washington, DC 05/02/05)
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Washington, DC, May. 2 (UPI) -- The Palestinian elections due to be
held on July 17 will be of extraordinary importance. But it may well
be a disaster -- extreme even for that people´s catastrophe-ridden
The election will set the framework in which the Palestinian
Authority enters serious negotiations with Israel for a
comprehensive settlement of the conflict. Five years ago the
Palestinian leadership rejected a chance for both peace and a
Palestinian state and instead plunged the area into four years of
bloody, terrorist war. Now it has another chance. What happens if
the Palestinians throw away this opportunity as well?
To win the elections, the new Palestinian leaders must achieve two
things. First, Fatah, in effect the ruling Palestinian party, must
unite behind them on a relatively moderate program. Next, Fatah has
to dominate Palestinian politics.
If the nationalist Fatah is defeated -- or seriously challenged --
by Islamist Hamas, the chance of getting a state could be set back
by decades. Nationalists would be too intimidated to make the
compromises needed to achieve peace or, even worse, the opportunists
among them could see an alliance with Hamas as the way to gain power
for themselves. Hamas itself would believe it can take over the
entire movement, making it more violent against Israel and
aggressive toward other Palestinians.
If only as a matter of self-preservation, one would expect the
leadership to act quickly and decisively. Among the actions needed:
-- Show their people that the new leaders are doing a good job by
fighting corruption, building a viable economy, and disarming
militant criminal elements that terrorize their own people.
-- Work effectively with Israel to persuade it to turn over towns
quickly, release more prisoners, and coordinate the Gaza withdrawal.
-- Unite Fatah traditional leaders to agree on candidates.
-- From a position of strength, negotiate effectively with the young
Fatah insurgents led by Marwan Barghouti and his Tanzim movement to
build a strong Fatah election list.
-- Build Fatah institutions able to mobilize support, get out
voters, and beat Hamas.
At best, however, the current leaders are operating at 20 percent
effectiveness on these issues. At the top, there is only drift and
timidity. For example, discontented Fatah gunmen recently attacked
PA offices in three towns with no tough response by the leadership.
The old practice of ensuring unity and mass support by blaming
Israel for everything will no longer work for the Fatah chiefs
because two other forces -- Barghouti´s men and Hamas -- can outbid
the incumbent leaders in their proclaimed militancy.
Here is where the weaknesses of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas shows. He is
incapable either of mobilizing the masses or forcing his supposed
subordinates to obey him. Arafat, who was unchallengeable, could get
away with anything. Abbas has no such luxury.
About the only real response to the growing crisis is that within
the Palestinian Legislative Council, which is understandably
panicking and wants to postpone the elections that are likely to
unseat so many of them after a nine-year-long term. Abbas,
embarrassed at what such a postponement would show, opposes this
How will Fatah choose its slate? So much time has been wasted that
it is probably too late to organize "party" primaries. Who will get
which seat? How many positions will be given to Barghouti
supporters? The process of working this complex deal out has not
If Abbas succeeds in putting together a Fatah slate before the
elections, many of those left out could secede and run as
independents, dividing the nationalist vote. If he fails, there
could be multiple candidates everywhere, or an unofficial Barghuti
list competing against the official Fatah nominees. This being
Palestinian politics, party dissidents would not fear expulsion or
punishment for running as independents.
It is impossible to predict the outcome of the elections, but let me
give a very rough example. Let us suppose the base support for Hamas
is at about 20 percent. It could get another 5 to 15 percent based
on admiration for its violence against Israel, religious piety,
relative lack of corruption, and as a protest vote against Fatah
misrule. That would be impressive enough -- enabling Hamas to
dictate much of the Palestinian agenda and negotiating position with
Israel. In other words, it could block any diplomatic settlement.
But that´s not all. Say that leftist candidates got 5 to 10 percent.
If you throw in independents and competing Fatah candidates
splitting the nationalist vote, Hamas could win a shocking number of
seats. Even if it did not get a majority -- and presumably refused
to enter any coalition government -- any thought of a peace process
would be gone. Faced with the likelihood of a Palestinian state
likely to become an armed base for anti-Israel terrorist war,
Israeli support for concessions would crumble. No Palestinian leader
would stand up to Hamas´s insistence on attacking Israel whenever it
pleased or its opposition to ending the conflict.
If this is a nightmare scenario, it should be scary enough to
mobilize Abbas and his colleagues into dramatic action. Yet it would
not be surprising if they failed to meet this challenge. If so,
-- Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International
Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC),
and co-author of "Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography" and "Hating
America: A History" (Oxford University Press, August 2004). His
forthcoming book, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for
Democracy in the Middle East, will soon be published by John Wiley.
(Copyright 2005 United Press International 05/02/05)
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