Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 October 2009
Issue No. 969
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The Palestinian dilemma

While Fatah looks to use Palestinian elections as a means to destroy Hamas, it is the Israeli occupation that ultimately uses elections to control the Palestinian struggle, writes Khaled Amayreh

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A Palestinian boy throws stones at an Israeli army watchtower at the Qalandia checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah

Reeling from the so-called "Goldstone scandal", Fatah has been waging a fresh war of words against Hamas, accusing the Islamic movement of sabotaging chances for Palestinian reconciliation.

The decision by the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership to seek to defer the adoption by the UN Human Rights Council of the Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip, which nonetheless the PA successfully reversed, created an unprecedented storm of criticism among Palestinians at home and in the Diaspora.

Seizing the moment, Hamas castigated the PA leadership, accusing it of colluding with Israel against Palestinian national interests and arguing that the PA was no longer fit to represent the Palestinian people and cause.

This week, Fatah leaders and spokespersons sought to settle scores with Hamas, accusing the Islamic group of hindering and thwarting Egyptian-mediated reconciliation efforts.

Fatah leader Mohamed Dahlan, a member of Fatah's Executive Committee, spearheaded verbal attacks against Hamas. During tours of the West Bank, Dahlan charged that Hamas was "hostage to the Muslim Brotherhood" in Jordan and Egypt and that as such the group was subservient to foreign powers.

A pivotal figure in the Fatah-Hamas standoff, Dahlan also warned that Fatah would organise general and presidential elections in the West Bank with or without Hamas's consent. Hamas official Ahmed Youssef dismissed Dahlan's remarks as "futile rhetoric".

"I think our brothers in Fatah should put an end to these verbal theatrics and stop fabricating accusations against Hamas," Youssef told Al-Ahram Weekly. He added that Hamas was awaiting clarifications with regard to some aspects of the reconciliation document. "We want to know if the international community, including the Quartet, will accept the agreement once it is signed. We also want to know if the upcoming elections will be fair and free and accepted by the international community."

Asked if Hamas was worried about possible unilateral elections in the West Bank, Youssef warned that such a step would consolidate the division between Gaza and the West Bank. "I think such statements by Abbas and Dahlan are merely balloon tests. It is a kind of pressure tactic on Hamas, and Hamas is not going to be intimidated by these silly games."

Youssef added that any elections organised by Fatah in the West Bank would be boycotted by a large segment of the Palestinian people. "Besides, there is no Arab or international consensus supporting such a step," said Youssef. "If Abbas decided to unilaterally organise elections in the West Bank, such elections would be more of a referendum on Fatah than true Palestinian elections."

Meanwhile, Moussa Abu Marzouq, deputy head of the Hamas politburo, was quoted as saying in interview Tuesday, 20 October, that Abbas "won't be able to hold elections in the West Bank alone, and all that we hear in this regard is nothing more than psychological pressure on Hamas. If he decided to go ahead with elections, then we will have our choices that we will declare in due time."

Abu Marzouq said Hamas would sign the reconciliation document forthwith if certain terms and stipulations dropped from the document were reincorporated into it.

Meanwhile, the stipulation on Hamas that it recognise Israel and accept to honour past agreements -- particularly the Oslo Accords -- reached between Israel and the Palestinians has resurfaced as a supposed precondition for Hamas's participation in elections.

However, Palestinian writer Hani Al-Masri dismisses the thought of excluding Hamas as both destructive and impractical. He pointed out that the fact of Israeli occupation and the absence of Palestinian sovereignty make Palestinian national unity a sine qua non condition for the organisation of successful elections.

Moreover, Al-Masri argues that in the light of the bitter experience of the 2006 elections, Hamas has the right to demand that the outcome of the upcoming elections be respected not only by Fatah but also by Israel and the international community.

"For these reasons, it is essential that national unity and national reconciliation precede the organisation of elections. The elections are, after all, by no means a magical wand that would solve the problems of the Palestinian people in one fell swoop."

In addition to 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 part of an overall resistance platform aimed at wresting freedom and liberation from Israel. Fatah appears to view elections as a means to re-impose its hegemony over the Palestinian masses.

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. What seems to be forgotten is that the storm between Fatah and Hamas is all taking place under Israeli military occupation.

Indeed, according to Al-Masri says, holding elections under Israeli occupation is a heresy "of our own making" that was supposed to be a one-time event pursuant the Oslo Accords and would lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. But via Oslo process Israel continued to control nearly all aspects of Palestinian life while stealing more Palestinian land for Jewish-only settlement expansion.

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.

This is the crux of the Palestinian dilemma.

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