It looks as if Israel intends to put many obstacles in the way of the proposed Palestinian election, not least that it does not want polling stations in Jerusalem – “the eternal capital of the unified state for Jews only” and it does not want Hamas to participate, directly or indirectly, until the movement accepts the Quartet’s conditions.
In 1996 and 2006, Israel allowed the inclusion of occupied Jerusalem as a Palestinian electoral district; in 2006 it even allowed Hamas to take part. Nobody, especially the Israelis, expected Hamas to win, but win it did, taking a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Will, therefore, the Netanyahu government prohibit what previous Israeli governments have permitted?
It goes without saying that none of the Palestinians will accept elections which do not include the voters in Jerusalem and Hamas candidates; to do so would mean that the elections will have lost their meaning and legitimacy. In the absence of Jerusalem and Hamas, it would be better to postpone or even cancel the elections rather than conduct them under humiliating conditions imposed by Israel.
That is far from certain, however, and Palestinians do not see the Netanyahu government’s conditions as impossible to overcome. A great responsibility lies on the Palestinian Authority, the PLO and the Arab and international communities to challenge and defeat Israeli arrogance. We can win through using all of the cards in our possession and building alliances. Even though Israel has taught us that “the power of logic cannot overcome the logic of power”, we must use both logic and power.
We have to consider that Israel is imposing such conditions in order to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to return to negotiations. This is an unreasonable and cruel attempt at a trade-off which should not be accepted under any circumstances.
One of the most important points in the Palestinians’ favour is national reconciliation, which must be completed quickly. Some worrying leaks suggest that there is a possibility of delaying the formation of a national unity government until international guarantees are made to hold elections in all areas of the PA and with the participation of all Palestinians wishing to be involved. This is not an option at all, even for a few days or weeks; it should not become a “solution”.
There is an “understanding” internationally that the elections will be held on the same basis as 2006, which would include Jerusalem and Hamas. This is a position which can be built upon and developed, utilising the raised democratic awareness and yearning for freedom across the Arab world.
According to the leaks, President Abbas does not want to take over the presidency of a permanent government, or a long term one, similar to the government led by Salam Fayyad, who has spent five years in a “caretaker” role. In the reconciliation discussions, Abbas agreed to be head of a transitional government with two main tasks: holding elections and the reconstruction of Gaza.
Israeli procrastination over giving the green light for the elections dictates a new timetable for Palestinian reconciliation. If there are signs of international action against Israel’s conditions, we will see a unity government headed by Abbas, but if Israeli procrastination causes a long delay then we must look for someone else as president. It is important that the reconciliation process does not become a victim of Israeli arrogance.
There are indications that a degree of understanding regarding these topics has been reached between Mahmud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal in their meetings in Doha and Cairo, which is both positive and comforting. However bickering between officials, assistants and spokespeople on both sides of the Palestinian split is creating concerns that Israel may succeed in transferring the blame for the disruption of the election to the Palestinians themselves. If that is allowed to happen, then we will have lost both the election and national reconciliation, and we will be back to square one.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.