What’s the point of Palestinian elections?

On Thursday I appeared on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story to talk about the agreement between Palestinian factions to hold legislative and presidential elections in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip later this year.

The panel included Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council elected in 2006, and Ofer Cassif, a member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, from the predominantly Arab Joint List bloc.

This would be the first vote since those 2006 legislative elections, when Hamas won by a landslide, beating out Fatah, the faction led by Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas had been elected Palestinian Authority president a year earlier.

However, as I pointed out in the discussion, the elections were effectively nullified when Fatah and Abbas conspired with the United States, Israel, the European Union and various regional states to isolate Hamas and then stage a coup against the national unity government Hamas had agreed to.

“I don’t know why Hamas would trust the same people, the same Mahmoud Abbas, the same Fatah and the same so-called international community to respect an election result now,” I told Al Jazeera.

Most Palestinians excluded

I also questioned the purpose of elections given that under Israeli occupation it is a fiction that Palestinians have their own government. The PA exists to collaborate with Israel on so-called security coordination.

Israel has regularly imprisoned Palestinian elected officials just because it doesn’t like their views.

One of those is lawmaker Khalida Jarrar who has been held by the Israeli military for her political activities since October 2019.

Under these conditions, I argued that the only thing Palestinians are being asked to do is elect a Palestinian Authority that will continue to collaborate with Israel against their rights.

Another major problem is that the elections would only be for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, excluding the vast majority of Palestinians who live in forced exile due to Israel’s racist denial of their right to return home.

Barghouti, who took part in the Cairo meetings that led to the agreement to hold new elections, argued that the elections were worthwhile since the PA is “controlling people’s lives” by collecting taxes and providing other services.

Cassif welcomed the prospect of elections as “signs of sovereignty and democracy” for Palestinians. However, he acknowledged that “Unfortunately, the Palestinian people are not sovereign, they are still under the Israeli occupation.”

US-backed coup

The story of the US-backed coup following the 2006 elections is told in David Rose’s landmark 2008 article in Vanity Fair titled “The Gaza Bombshell.”

In 2007, the plot backed by Washington led to a short, bloody civil war in Gaza between Hamas and the Fatah militias led by Muhammad Dahlan, a warlord supported by the United Arab Emirates.

As Rose recounts, then US President George W. Bush described Dahlan as “our guy.”

However Abbas and Dahlan’s forces were routed and had to be evacuated to the West Bank with Israel’s assistance, or to Egypt.

This is the genesis of the current split where Hamas controls the interior of Gaza and Abbas controls small areas of the West Bank as permitted by Israel.

With the collusion of Abbas and his loyalists, Gaza was then subjected to the ongoing Israeli siege aimed at forcing Hamas into submission, or reducing the population to such misery and desperation that it would turn against Hamas and embrace Abbas.

That too has failed.

I pointed out that nothing has fundamentally changed since 2006, which is why all previous efforts at “reconciliation” between Hamas and Fatah have foundered.

Abbas remains fully committed to collaboration with Israeli occupation forces, while Hamas – or at least its military wing – has remained committed to military resistance against Israel.

Therefore, any reconciliation or “national unity” can only be based on Abbas’ Fatah abandoning collaboration with Israel, or Hamas abandoning resistance.

Since there is no sign that Abbas is ever willing to give up collusion with the occupation – something he calls “sacred” – the question is whether Hamas’ leaders have decided to join Fatah in administering the occupation on behalf of Israel.

Notably, Hamas and Fatah have been talking about putting up a joint list of candidates in the election, which suggests that this indeed may be the case.

Watch the video above.

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The PA/PLO is a collaborator with Israel. ..beginning with Arafat who set up Dahlan’s death squads, it has been run by egos concerned only with self-interested squirrelled away wealth.. it doesn't give a damn about Palestine or Palestinian freedom.. equally egregious are are the Palestinians, inside and outside Palestine, who support ( for 27 years!!!) the PA/PLO.. they are all in effect zionists, traitors to the martyrs and the youth who maintain the rage and the faith in a free Palestine.

Palestine will never be free while its own history and leaders are whitewashed and its people put political partisanship i.e. Fatah/Hamas above Palestine's freedom. - Israel would freak out if Palestinians became UNITED..that is the moment of Palestinian power. But first Palestinians need to deal with the enemy within.

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Quite. The people voted the wrong way in 2006 and the US punished them for it. The elections would of course be a sham, given the exclusion of those in exile and, of course, the realpolitik that even if every Palestinian voted for one side or the other, the Israelis would have control. One thing, however, is crucial: military resistance by Hamas will play into Israel's hands. There is no possibility of a war. The Palestinians have no army. There was no war in South Africa. There was armed uprising, acts of terrorism but crucially there was the intervention of Cuban troops to defeat SA's expansionist ambitions. There was no war in Northern Ireland. There were the "troubles", bombings, shootings, but there was no republican force equal to the British army. Armed resistance can't win and it will grant the Israel lobby the propaganda tool of characterising the violence as terrorism. There is no solution from within Israel-Palestine. It is from the world outside, in the widest sense, that the solution will come. We can free the Palestinians by using our right to free speech (even though the UK Labour Party is trying to take it away) , to organise, the publish. There will be no quick victory. A tragedy for those who need relief today; but we can make the change. Israel can't continue as it us without the collusion of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia. We can change the politics in those countries. We who are not oppressed. It is our duty to do so. For us to recommend armed resistance to people who would be crushed by massive military superiority is morally reprehensible. As the man said: "The bravest words come from the safest places." Our houses will not be bulldozed. We are not stopped at checkpoints. We won't be shot for waving Palestinian flags. We must take the strain and do the work. The Palestinians must rob the Israelis of their propaganda by remaining peaceful.

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I appreciate Ali's straight forward and honest analysis. I heard him speak once in Seattle when he was promoting "One Country" and he signed the book.

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I'm standing now 100 meters from the blue line demarcating the border between occupied Palestine and Lebanon. I can state with complete certainty that NO international solution exists for Palestine other than for the natives to got the way of the American Indian. The only way is for them to do what the Lebanese did and fight for their country with any and all means at their disposal including sacrificing their lives. This is what the Lebanese did for 15 years and won. 20+ years of negotiations and international road maps have accomplished nothing. That is why I am standing here, in territory formerly controlled by Israelis, a free man.

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I think all three speakers were frustrated at having answers cut short. I don't know why there was a "time" issue, especially when so many different issues brought up and less than 30 minutes. Have a long version for internet & take excerpts, if needed, for a TV program. I would have preferred being able to listen to all each had to say. Thanks to Ali Abunimah to doing as well as he did under constrained time limits.

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It may be too obvious a point but surely deciding the wishes of the people governed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and having a free and fair election after a hugely long interval without one is intrinsically worthwhile?

Okay, it might not be perfect but still, isn't it better than not doing so?

One of the big arguments enemies of the Palestinians often use is that they are undemocratic and badly governed by a set of dictatorships - one of which is, of course, an fundamentalist Islamist party which is - wrongly or rightly - widely designated as a terrorist group. Wouldn't having a free and fair democratic election, indeed, even a good approximation of such, deny them that argument and reveal what the Palestinian ppl want? Including, hopefully, not backing Hamas again?

What is the alternative?

Not having any elections and just carrying on with the status quo that is already causing so much misery?

Having some sort of violent coup?

Surrendering and telling Israel okay you now take complete charge of everything?

What would you prefer and what's the alternative here?

Sorry, Ali Abunimah, but I really don't understand your opposition to holding an election here.

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Israel holds the cards until outside pressure changes the dynamic. Read the 2006 election aftermath in the VANITY FAIR article. The key to full human and political rights for Palestinians is ending the shameful, unblinking support and protection Israel receives from the US. This is THE task at hand. The tool is BDS.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.