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Elections or a referendum?

Chief of Court Board Hisham al-Hantu (C) reads the Palestinian Supreme Court's decision that municipal elections can be held, but only in the West Bank and not in Gaza Strip on October 3, 2016 in Ramallah, West Bank. [Issam Rimawi - Anadolu Agency]
Chief of Court Board Hisham al-Hantu (C) reads the Palestinian Supreme Court's decision that municipal elections can be held, but only in the West Bank and not in Gaza Strip on October 3, 2016 in Ramallah, West Bank. [Issam Rimawi - Anadolu Agency]

We have witnessed increased speculation that the Palestinian elections (mainly for the legislative council) are likely to take place within the next few months. With this speculation we are witnessing increased rumours and calls for the need for the two main factions, Fatah and Hamas, to run with  a joint list that other factions may join or that may be limited to them.

If such a scenario takes place, we would be facing elections that are closer to a referendum, and its results will legitimise the “factional quota system”, and the Palestinian people will miss a rare opportunity to renew and “rejuvenate” their elites and their political system. Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership will have postponed addressing the problem of division, and instead chose “crisis management” for its political system over the difficult search for radical solutions to its problems and weaknesses.

However, the scenario of voting with a joint list must be viewed from another angle. On the one hand, there is a European need and pressure to hold the elections as soon as possible. On the other hand, it is necessary in order to confront the deal of the century, annexation projects and normalisation paths. On a third hand, it is a probable, if not certain, means to embark on reconciliation and rounding the sharp and harmful angles of division.

The PA is afraid of a repeat of the 2006 elections, and it is being subjected to Arab pressures, contrary to the European pressures, to postpone this election indefinitely (and perhaps forever). Here and now, a joint list appears to be a way out of the recent pressures, and a message of reassurance to those who fear the success of Hamas and anticipate the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is a message of relative reassurance, as it will not be enough in any way, as some Arabs are only satisfied with receiving the head of Hamas and the heads of the Brotherhood on a tin platter, not one of gold and silver.

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If the elections take place with free competition between the factions, then the possibility of Hamas winning should not be ruled out, if not by a technical knockout, then with points. At which point Fatah will have one of two options: to accept the election results and hand over power to Hamas or reject it and take the risk of deepening the division and turning it into “separation”.

If Hamas wins the elections, its problem will not only be with Fatah, but with other Arabs and the international community who will not recognise the election results, as most of them did with the elections in Venezuela and Belarus. The election may lose one of its motives and justifications: renewing legitimacy.

Instead of the election being a path to reconciliation and a gateway to lifting the long and bitter siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, the West Bank will be annexed to the Gaza Strip and subjected to the sanctions imposed on it. Hence, the Palestinian problem will worsen, and their isolation will increase, and the Israeli right-wing will find a way to pounce on the remaining elements of the national project and the components of Palestinian steadfastness.

If Fatah wins the elections, Hamas is unlikely to accept this result and hand over the “de facto authority” in Gaza to the PA in Ramallah. Its argument is always ready, which is to protect the weapons of the resistance, and no legitimacy is more legitimate than it.

It is not a matter of “reaping benefits” but of “warding off evil”.  A joint list election can be viewed as a tactical way out of the complexity of the Palestinian situation in its regional and international aspects. The joint list will win between two-thirds to three-quarters of the Palestinians’ votes, and if the leftist and civil forces succeed in obtaining 10-15 per cent of the seats, the rest of which will go to social forces (tribal, etc), them this will be a gain.

The joint list elections are a final straw determining whether the Palestinians overcome the flood. However, the elections as they are, are a means to renew the Palestinian elite, integrate the youth into the Palestinian government, and add unchallenged legitimacy to its institutions and structures. They require preparations and understandings, none of which seem to be available on the horizon of the Palestinian scene, and perhaps won’t be until further notice.

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This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 14 October 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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