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Israel’s pre-emptive conditions for Hamas' participation in elections

October 24, 2020 at 4:06 pm

Hamas sets up elections committee in Gaza, 16 December 2019 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

The Israeli calls against the participation of Hamas in the upcoming elections are getting louder, alleging that the involvement of a movement representing a threat to Israel is banned under the Oslo Accords. Thus, anti-Hamas advocates are demanding the Israeli authorities to block the way for the movement’s participation in the election race, by arresting its candidates, banning the elections, and closing voting centres.

This position stems from the recent agreements of Fatah and Hamas during the Istanbul talks. However, Israel remains concerned and alarmed, fearing an increase in Hamas’ presence in the West Bank given the vulnerability of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Beyond that, Israel’s concerns are focused on the expected victory of Hamas that will strengthen the power of Iran and Turkey in the region, and increase their influence in the West Bank. This explains the recent warning issued by Jordan and Egypt to PA President Mahmoud Abbas about establishing closer relations with Hamas, Turkey, and Qatar.

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Israeli estimates indicate that Hamas aims to participate in the next elections as part of a plan to control the West Bank. Israel believes that this requires it to intervene and make it clear to Abbas that it does not intend to allow Hamas to participate in the elections, not even indirectly, through establishing a new political party to participate in parliamentary elections on its behalf.

Israel has sufficient power to ban the elections in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to control both areas. The occupation authorities can also arrest candidates, close voting centres, and prevent 300,000 Jerusalemites from participating.

The calls opposing the participation of Hamas in the elections demand the Israeli authorities to overtly express their refusal to let the movement win the elections before a possible change takes place in the White House – if Trump loses the presidential race, which will make things harder for Israel.

Other Israeli circles have demanded the occupation to impose conditions on Hamas to accept its participation in the next elections. They claim that the movement’s involvement in the 2006 elections does not entitle it to return to the upcoming race, and does not justify repeating the so-called “hard mistake” on Israel’s part. In case Hamas does not seem ready to abandon the path of armed action, Israel must then show total opposition to its planned participation in the next Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections.

Despite the consensus between Fatah and Hamas to hold the elections, Israel must not be complacent. Rather, it should require that any Palestinian party participating in the elections should not seek to achieve its objectives via undemocratic means, whether as an individual or an organisation.

The Israelis remember Hamas’ victory in the 2006 legislative elections, which was achieved thanks to the movement’s popularity among Palestinians, along with the mistake that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government made by accepting Hamas’ participation in the elections.

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A year and a half later, Hamas benefited from its victory and took control of the Gaza Strip mid-2007.

In 2005, after Sharon took a historic step to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip, US President Bush succeeded in convincing him to let Hamas participate in the 2006 legislative elections. Bush believed at the time that allowing Hamas to participate in the election would give legitimacy to the Oslo Agreement, and if the movement wins 25 per cent of votes, then it would become a constructive element in the promising Palestinian democracy.

Then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon leans over housing plans as he meets with contractors who are building temporary housing for settlers due to be evacuated from the Gaza Strip under his disengagement plan July 5, 2005 at the Nitzanim construction site in southern Israel [David Silverman/Getty Images]

Then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon leans over housing plans as he meets with contractors who are building temporary housing for settlers due to be evacuated from the Gaza Strip under his disengagement plan July 5, 2005 at the Nitzanim construction site in southern Israel [David Silverman/Getty Images]

For his part, Sharon managed to win his government’s approval to let Hamas participate, without any opposition from the right-wing camp. This was despite the fact that several members of the negotiation team in Israel believed that Hamas’ participation in elections violates the Oslo Agreement, without showing serious opposition to this step, because they did not see a difference between the participation of Hamas, Fatah or the rest of the Palestinian factions.

In the end, the result of the elections became very problematic. Hamas achieved a sweeping victory, while Fatah did not succeed in presenting a unified list in the elections. Hamas’ victory came as a surprise for everybody, even the movement itself. On the other hand, Bush did not know how to act after this significant shift of events. The European Union set four conditions to recognise Hamas’ victory, including the complete renunciation of armed action and the recognition of the signed agreements. However, Hamas did not show any commitment to these conditions.

Today, more than 14 years since the last Palestinian legislative elections, most of the world’s countries still refuse to recognise Hamas, but they were forced to have ties with it. Even Abbas, who saw Hamas as his biggest enemy, was obliged to ally with it. This was especially true after the wave of Arab normalisation with Israel and discovering that Hamas’ allies in the region still reject establishing ties with the occupation.

The Israelis claim that holding Palestinian elections today is not an internal Palestinian affair, but rather a matter of interest for the Israelis too. As long as it was the duty of the Israeli government to enable the Jerusalemites to vote in mailboxes in East Jerusalem, it should oblige Hamas to give up armed action. If the movement does not show its willingness to do so, then the Israeli authorities will have no other choice but to declare their opposition to Hamas’ participation in the elections, or in any democratic process in Palestine. However, this might be considered a blatant intervention in Palestinian affairs.

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It is strange that Israel’s increasing demands to prevent Hamas from participating in the elections, under the pretext of its anti-Israel political positions, are matched by the occupation government’s sponsorship of various right-wing parties that call for the implementation of racist policies and measures against the Palestinians.

The Israeli position revealed a blatant contradiction and a schizophrenic tendency experienced by the Zionist entity while the world watches. The Palestinians do not need Israel’s approval to hold the upcoming election, which is a purely internal Palestinian affair, in which the Israelis have no right to intervene.

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