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Palestine and the election game (Part 1)

January 26, 2021 at 11:05 am

Officials count ballots after Palestinians living in Israel-occupied West Bank voted in the local election, which is boycotted by several Palestinian groups, at the Banat Qasm High School in Ramallah, West Bank on May 13, 2017 [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

Read part 2 here

The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas was adamant that he was cancelling security coordination with the occupation state, pulling out of the Oslo Accords and returning to national struggle and resistance to liberate Palestine. Then Joe Biden became the likely winner of the US presidential election, and suddenly Abbas had to climb down, especially on security coordination. His other threats were left in abeyance, buying him time until Biden’s victory was confirmed and a fresh relationship could be struck up with Washington, bringing new handouts with it.

Abbas ignored what he knows better than most through his many failed experiences with successive US administrations, Republican and Democrat alike: Washington does not give handouts out of the goodness of its heart; it does so as long as such financial largesse benefits Israel directly or indirectly. The submissive Abbas is still asking the US to take pity on him, though, and maybe throw him some crumbs from the table.

Two days before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Abbas announced that Palestinian legislative and presidential elections, and the election of the Palestinian National Council, are to be held later this year. He clearly believes that this will bring him closer to Biden and improve his relationship with the Americans. Trump destroyed this by cutting aid to the PA, closing the PLO office in Washington, and withholding the US donation to UNRWA, along with his move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognition of Israeli “sovereignty” over the holy city and the occupied Syrian Golan Height

The PA leader thought that his election decree would be the joker that will open the door to the White House. Democrats love democracy, right? So he presented them with a democratic gift, pushing aside the dangers that may befall the Palestinians as a result of holding elections, and may even bring his political career to a close. It seems as if he paid little heed to this possibility.

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Ironically, Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has already made dangerous statements in the Senate about the Palestinian issue. When asked whether he recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel he said yes immediately. He also stressed that the US Embassy will remain in Jerusalem and repeated the mantra of the pre-Trump administrations that the two-state solution is the only viable option for Palestine-Israel.

Blinken’s words confirm what I have said before; Biden’s policy towards the Palestinian issue will not differ much from Trump’s, because it is an established US policy. It is the policy of the deep state, which no president can change, forming as it does Washington’s strategy to protect the settler-colonial state at all costs. That is at the core of US foreign policy.

The only deviation from this may be in terms of style and delivery. While Trump was crude and bold — revealing the true face of colonial, racist America without trying to camouflage it —Biden wears the mask of decency, like some of his predecessors. He speaks softly, with reason and charm, appealing to our sensitivities; and before we know it, his term will be over, we will have been lulled into passivity, and the Palestinians will be even worse off than they are now. More Palestinian land will be lost, what’s left of historic Palestine will be Judaised, and legitimate Palestinian rights will have been trodden into extinction. Trump may have wanted to liquidate the Palestinian issue with the shocking pro-Israel steps he took, but Biden is unlikely to reverse any of them. The fact is that Biden and Trump are two sides of the same colonial US coin.

The new Secretary of State has applauded the Abraham Accords and normalisation with Israel. “It makes Israel and the region safer. It’s a good thing, and yes, I would hope that we can build on that as well.”

What more evidence do we need that Biden will follow in Trump’s footsteps? He has appointed prominent pro-Israel figures in vital positions. Apart from Blinken, there is Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence, Ron Klain as White House Chief of Staff, David Cohen as Deputy Director of the CIA, Alejandro Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security, and Merrick Garland as US Attorney General; the list goes on.

The US president, it is clear, is a proud Zionist. Even Abbas seems to have forgotten what the then-Senator Biden said in 1986: “It’s about time we stop apologising for our support for Israel,” he told his Senate colleagues. “There’s no apology to be made. It is the best $3 billion investment we make. If there weren’t an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.”

Abbas’s election gift on the eve of Biden’s inauguration plays into this agenda. The Palestinians had agreed during the reconciliation meetings that took place in Turkey between Fatah and Hamas a few months ago that elections will be held. However, since then, Abbas held closed-door talks with the occupation authorities to reinstate security coordination, without the knowledge of Hamas and the other resistance factions that are negotiating to reconcile with the PA. What kind of reconciliation can occur in the light of such deception and betrayal? For whose benefit was coordination reinstated? Certainly not the Palestinians.

It is likely that Hamas agreed to sit at the negotiating table with Fatah after the PA announced the cancellation of security coordination and the other arrogant threats noted above. Hamas fell into the trap, which Abbas used as the bogey to restore his “sacred” security cooperation with the occupation state. Now he is using the movement in the election game in order to get rid of it completely under the pretext of it being a “terrorist organisation”. He is playing the occupation’s game and has the opportunity to do this with the Biden administration. As Blinken said, the new administration will deal with the PA based on its position on “terrorist organisations”, a misnomer for the Palestinian resistance movements, especially Hamas, of course.

No matter who is in the White House, Washington will never agree to Hamas participating in any elections that it might win. This suits Abbas because he wants to disarm the resistance, control Gaza and seek revenge for what happened in 2006 when Hamas made his security forces flee like mice in search of a shelter to hide in.

However, has Abbas forgotten in his blind quest to be rid of Hamas, that his former security chief in Gaza, Muhammad Dahlan, will support him over holding the elections that he has decreed? And that Dahlan’s men will then remove him from the scene before he can do the same to Hamas?

Dahlan is a serious rival to Abbas. He was dismissed from Fatah but is now supported financially, logistically, and morally by the UAE. He has a large support base within Fatah, including figures who have a lot of money and can topple Abbas and his comrades. Washington wants Dahlan’s “Americanised” way of thinking to replace Fatah and its history of struggle, which was buried in the Oslo cemetery. The movement’s name must also be buried, with Dahlan the desired figure pencilled in to replace Abbas.

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The promised elections are stipulated by the Oslo Accords; by holding them, the PA renews Oslo’s legitimacy, even though it has basically lost the Palestinians their rights. Why did Hamas agree to participate after rejecting the Oslo Accords in form and substance? It made a mistake in 2006 by taking part in the elections and suffers the consequences to this day, as have the honourable people of the Gaza Strip. How can it repeat the same mistake, and agree to jump from the frying pan into the fire?

The Palestinians have no independent state in which to hold their elections, and certainly the very little notion of democracy in theory and practice. Abbas’s term in office expired in 2009, and yet he is still at the helm. Hamas won the last democratic election in occupied Palestine, and yet is ostracised. How can the people who allowed this to happen to ensure that the elections decreed by Abbas will be free and fair? Moreover, how can such elections be held under Israel’s brutal military occupation?

I do not see any need for presidential and legislative elections. They pose a dangerous dilemma from which it will be difficult to escape, and are going to widen the split within the Palestinian house, instead of repairing it.

I do, however, support the elections for the PNC, which represents all the Palestinian people, including the diaspora, which means that they could lead to the restructuring of the PLO. Even so, I would rather that the Palestinians agree to close down the PLO and leave its disastrous decisions behind, and then create a new Palestinian umbrella entity, with a young, patriotic spirit. Together with the election of a new leadership, this could reinstate the Palestinian cause with national liberation as its prime objective. It could gain complete legitimacy by making bold decisions regarding the disaster of Oslo and managing every aspect of the national project.

To be continued next week, God willing.

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