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Do the Palestinians need ‘renewed legitimacy’?

March 10, 2021 at 11:56 am

Members of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission register voters in the West Bank town of Hebron on February 10, 2021 [HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images]

Supporters of the Palestinian elections are repeatedly using the phrase “renewed legitimacy” and claiming it is essential, but the truth is that this is nothing more than additional confusion and deception. It has no other meaning than that the Palestinians, whether Fatah or Hamas, were caught in the Israeli trap of “legitimacy”.

The truth is that the Palestinian people live under occupation and that the Palestinian Authority is not an independent state, and so Hamas, Fatah, and the others are national liberation movements, not political parties. These movements do not derive their legitimacy from elections or ballot boxes; they derive it from their legitimate struggle against the Israeli occupation. This right is internationally recognised and protected by international law that recognises the peoples’ right to self-determination.

What happens in independent states with democratic systems is that political parties in government gain their legitimacy from General Elections, as the people are the source of their authority. The political platform that receives the most votes gains the necessary legitimacy to form a government.

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However, this does not apply to Palestine, as it contains liberation movements and resistance forces that carry out their legitimate acts while the occupation is in place. Moreover, the majority of the Palestinian electorate cannot give their political opinion through the ballot box because the occupation forces have made them refugees in the diaspora; it is a fact that eight million Palestinians abroad are deprived of their right to participate in an electoral process. Hence, the idea of “renewed legitimacy” is entirely irrelevant.

Hamas was lured into the Palestinian Authority elections in 2006 and is now also mentioning the idea of “renewed legitimacy”. But was Hamas a legitimate or illegitimate movement before 2006 and its receipt of the people’s votes? If the resistance gains its legitimacy from elections, then who elected Sheikh Ahmed Yassin? He lived and died without participating in elections; he was neither a candidate nor a voter. The same can be said about the late President Yasser Arafat, who led the resistance from 1965. Did he hold elections that ended in his victory? Furthermore, is it right to even ask the voters if they want to resist the occupation or not?

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The concept of renewed legitimacy that some are repeating with good intentions — or perhaps without really knowing what it means — is based on the assumption that Palestine is an independent and democratic state, and that Hamas and Fatah are two political parties that circulate authority, and therefore must obtain their legitimacy from the ballot boxes and the voters. The fact is that such assumptions are unfounded: Palestine and its people are under occupation; Hamas and Fatah are resistance forces or, in political terminology, national liberation movements. They are fighting and struggling in a legitimate manner as long as the occupation continues, in accordance with the legitimate right of people to self-determination.

Israel is arresting Hamas members ahead of the election - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel is arresting Hamas members ahead of the election – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Hamas is gradually being tempted to turn into a political party to compete against its rival, Fatah over its share of the quasi-autonomous authority under occupation. Pushing the movement towards participating in the elections is all part of the plan to hybridise and disable it. It is likely that Israel is behind this plan, because ever since Hamas acknowledged in 2006 that the source of legitimacy is the ballot box and joined the PA’s game — which was actually a trap set by Israel for the PA — the plan has been to get it to participate in elections again but to lose the game, the rules of which it has already accepted.

The conclusion here is that the Palestinians across the spectrum do not need elections, as neither Fatah nor Hamas needs “renewed legitimacy”; their legitimacy begins with the struggle against the occupation and ends when they abandon it. President Mahmoud Abbas does not need renewed legitimacy, as he is the head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation which is a more important and senior position than “President of the Palestinian Authority”. As for the Palestinian people, most of them are in the diaspora and their priority is the liberation of their country. Only once that is achieved should they need to cast their votes in elections.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 8 March 2021

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