Israel has been sending messages confirming its intentions to undermine the merit of Palestinian elections and derail their national reconciliation efforts. The most prominent of these messages have been the threats to continue withholding tax revenue owed to the PA and its recent campaign of arrests against Hamas activists and leaders.
Israel has no interest in ending the Palestinian division. It has used this as its best excuse and justification for the theory of “the absence of a Palestinian partner”. The resumption of reconciliation and restoration of unity will surely be unwelcomed by the Israeli right and the extreme right-wing government led by Netanyahu. There is also no doubt that Tel Aviv will do all it can to keep this division permanent and ensure that it is the final destiny for the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, it has found everything it needs to achieve its goals with the least amount of effort and cost in the prevalent selfish factional disputes.
Israel will resort to two methods to undermine the merit of the elections: the first is to exert pressure to bar the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Islamic Jihad from participating under the pretext that they are terrorist movements; the second is to place obstacles that stand in the way of holding elections in Jerusalem under the pretext that it is the “united eternal capital.” In both cases, there will be no elections and there shouldn’t be, as elections must be demographically comprehensive (including all factions, groups and residential components), as well as geographically comprehensive (including all the Palestinian land occupied in 1967).
Previous Palestinian elections were not conducted free from Israeli obstacles. The same pretexts and excuses were given before, but despite this, Palestinians were able to hold their elections, which were conducted freely, fairly and transparently. I do not believe that they are unable to mobilise international support to pressure Israel to stop its arbitrary interference with their right for elections, and lift the restrictions it has imposed against Palestinian reconciliation.
Recent Arab and international disclosures suggest that winning this battle with the occupation is possible, if a solid intention for elections, reconciliation and unity is present. This is something that can be sensed through an examination of the European positions, and even the American; at least towards the issue of elections. Despite the many reservations several parties have towards Hamas, they did not stop the movement from participating in previous elections, and it is unlikely that they will stand in the way of holding the elections with its participation now.
But no one can confine the issue of reconciliation and unity to elections. Previous elections were part of the problem and not the solution. Hamas’ victory led to the military action and the splitting up of the Palestinian government, Authority and geography. There is nothing that can ensure that the movement’s victory will end the problem; and equally, Fatah’s victory will not mean that its path to the Gaza Strip, or more precisely the road for its government and security services to return to Gaza, has become clear. Reconciliation is now in need of something further and deeper than merely holding elections.
Even if the two main factions succeeded in overcoming the Israeli obstacles, and were humble enough to respect the outcome of the elections and agreed to do so, there is no guarantee that this “gentlemen’s agreement” will be implemented on the ground. Moreover, there is nothing to ensure that they will be able to fulfil their promises on the ground, at the expense of contradictory opportunistic and selfish interests on both sides of the Palestinian divide, which have been feeding this division, prolonging it, and preventing its end.
Such situation actually requires a radical re-examination of the methodology of the current national dialogue. It is no longer enough to organize procedural meetings between factional leaders that only last for a few hours, in order to overcome barriers and obstacles that stand in the way of reconciliation. It has now become essential to institutionalize the dialogue to create a common understanding; one that is more precise and profound between the various Palestinian components of the challenges that confront the Palestinian cause. They must develop strategies to encounter the next stage, and specifically, how to respond to Israeli attempts to sabotage the elections, reconciliation, rights and the Palestinian cause as a whole.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.