It is difficult to give a definite answer to the question of whether or not Palestine needs elections in light of the fact that most of the reconciliation efforts are focusing on this point, and that the majority of the factions are relying on elections for different reasons. These include an improvement in their electoral chances, a change in the status quo, and the utilisation of the suffering and siege to help one side win. However, we are then faced with the internationally-imposed red tape, which only allows one path to be followed without any hindrances.
The main problem that must be present in the minds of all Palestinian factions is the existence of the Israeli occupation and the extent to which the various components of the electoral process can be present for a people under occupation and those in the diaspora. They must also keep in mind that the Israelis may impose equations or issues on the ground that may allow one party to benefit at the expense of another, or prohibit the repetition of the previous experience, when Hamas won hands down. In addition, they need to think of the extent of what is possible under occupation, if we are to assume that the elections will be held at all. Perhaps the near vegetative state of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in recent years due to Israeli action on one hand and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s arbitrary decisions on the other, has cast a shadow on parliamentary experience in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This suggests that elections may well be a pointless exercise. What would an election be like if only it could be held beyond the constraints imposed by the Israeli occupation, the donor countries and the international community?
It is natural for the factions which have excused themselves from resistance to the occupation and, indeed, the whole liberation project, to disregard such calculations and considerations, because they do not suffer from limitations and harassment. They live in harmony with the autonomous system in the West Bank, based on specific commitments to protect Israel’s security. Hence, we find the members of these factions and their supporters talking at length about the need to renew “legitimacy” and breathe life into the Palestinian political system, and resurrect parliamentary life and similar work. It is also natural for them not to care about the extent to which a healthy democratic atmosphere would be allowed to exist for the electoral process to take place without any external pressure or persecution. After all, their security is assured and they rely on being able to convince the masses that the political bottleneck can only be broken if they refrain from electing a party that is opposed to the occupation and does not meet the conditions set by Israel and the West.
However, the resistance groups, especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad, must have greater potential than merely getting involved in discussing details that seem to be a luxury on the margins of a larger project. The basis of this project is to work on everything that will help bring liberation a day closer, rather than further away. What makes the matter more serious is the current state of the intifada that requires help to develop and continue, and make sure that it does not just fade into oblivion. The distraction of an election could kill the current uprising at a stroke.
The problems of the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and all of its consequences can be addressed and dealt with by means of an agreement, rather than making it dependent on fruitless negotiations. However, what usually happens is that the Gaza issue is postponed until after the elections, for reasons that are purely political and very obvious. The PA and Fatah have been doing this and choosing only what suits them from the reconciliation portfolio, and then only adhering to whatever supports their own objectives. As for any other crucial, important issues, they are left to the unknown, which is what happened and is currently happening in terms of their management of the negotiations and agreement with the Israelis.
When we face such imbalance and are unable to adjust the scales, then relying on the results will be disastrous. When the foundations and basics are absent and we are distracted and consumed by frivolous details, then the disaster is multiplied and intensified. The same can be said when we repeat the same experiences and follow paths that are destined to end up in national loss. To sum it up, the current state of bankruptcy, stalemate and disorientation suits a specific party in the Palestinian arena, and so it is trying to maintain the current state of affairs by deception and undue pressure on its opponents.
So does Palestine really need elections? Or are other aspects of the liberation struggle more important at this moment in time?
Translated from Felesteen, 9 February, 2016.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.