By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
It doesn’t seem that the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections would be held next May 2019 (not even in the near future), as called by the Constitutional Court of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. Not even because they were approved and welcomed by the Fatah movement, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the PA.
It seems that Fatah will deal pragmatically with the part it desires of the court’s decision, which is to dissolve the PLC. As for the part of holding the elections within the next six months, it doesn’t seem that Fatah really wishes to enforce it, and this is regardless of the objection of the other Palestinian factions to the Constitutional Court itself, its powers and decisions.
The first indication that the elections will not be held is that the call was made in the context of the conflict between Fatah and the PA on the one hand, and Hamas on the other; and in an environment that exacerbates the Palestinian internal scene. Hence, the elections, in essence, were not a cure but rather a cover for a conflict of wills and an attempt to delegitimize Hamas and limit its capabilities. This means that the Constitutional Court decision was meant to add insult to injury rather than to offer a roadmap of a way out of the crisis.
How could it be possible for Fatah to talk about an “elections’ celebration,” while ignoring its Reconciliation Agreement of 2011 with other Palestinian factions, and imposing a new track that would blow up the internal scene. Any serious party that wants the elections to be held, must establish a suitable healthy environment for them, rather than increase tension and destroy confidence-building measures that are needed for transparent “democratic” election process. Furthermore, Fatah continued its crisis-instigating rhetoric with Hamas rather than reaching agreements with it, for if Hamas boycotts the elections they would lose a great deal of their credibility. Furthermore, the participation of Gaza Strip (GS) in the elections is basically dependent on Hamas’s approval and cooperation.
In January 2019, one of Fatah’s leaders, Hussein al-Shaikh, stated in a TV interview that there will be no unity government with Hamas before ending the schism, unless it happens “over our dead bodies,” adding that they would not allow the rule of the “obscurants.” Then, on 23/2/2019, al-Shaikh threatened to issue decisions and take measures that would affect Hamas and its future. For its part, Hamas escalated its criticism of Fatah and the PA, where its deputies voted to end Abbas’s mandate and launched campaigns to delegitimize him.
The second indicator is that Fatah needs national “leverages” to hold elections, at least at the major Palestinian factions level. That way, Fatah would eventually be able to besiege “Hamas,” forcing it either to acquiesce in the conditions of Fatah’s political process or leave the political game. However, what Fatah leadership did increased the Palestinian opposition to it, where all major factions rejected the Constitutional Court’s decision to dissolve the PLC, and refused also to take the elections issue seriously, blaming Fatah and PA leadership for escalating the crisis. Furthermore, they refused to participate in the suggested government, which includes PLO factions, to manage the PA and the elections. Consequently, Fatah became more isolated in the Palestinian arena, and the policies of these political factions and Hamas converged further. This means that Fatah and the PA leadership failed to find the minimum required to “legitimize” the elections or to isolate Hamas.
It seems that the Fatah leadership and the PA themselves were not genuinely interested in including the rest of PLO’s main Palestinian factions. For they did not make any interesting offer to overcome the political crisis, the PA’s dilemmas or Oslo’s entitlements. It continued with its “snobbish” political speech, even when it was talking about a government that includes PLO factions, whereas these kept their opposition.
The crisis with the Palestinian factions was the reason behind the failure of the inter-factions Moscow talks, on 11–12/2/2019, which failed even to issue a final statement. These events (and without going into details) led Fatah to launch a media campaign against the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ) and Hamas, and issue a decision to boycott the PIJ. Hence, taking the Palestinian political climate another step back.
The third indicator is that Fatah and the PA had planned the elections such that they would be held only for the PLC, as if they were only meant to end the parliamentary majority of Hamas and politically marginalize it—which falls within the framework of political rivalry, rather than the reform of the Palestinian political system. Noteworthy to say that the Reconciliation Agreement, which the Palestinian factions agreed on, called for commitments to hold simultaneous elections for the PLC, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and the Palestinian Presidency. Therefore, when Fatah tries to only implement what suits it, that would be perceived as “repositioning” of its leadership, while the political system remains in its miserable deteriorating state, a matter that will be rejected by both the Palestinian factions and public.
The fourth indicator is that the Palestinian public opinion polls do not give encouraging signs to Fatah and PA leaderships to run for real elections, in which Hamas participates. According to the latest public opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (An independent center in Ramallah), the popularity of both Fatah and Hamas are almost the same, however, Haniyyah would most likely be the winner, receiving 7% more of the public vote than ‘Abbas. The poll’s main findings included the following: 64% want ‘Abbas to resign, 66% are dissatisfied with the performance of his government, 80% believe that the PA institutions are corrupt, 77% demand the removal of the sanctions imposed against GS, 61% oppose Abbas’ position that Hamas must fully hand over control over the GS to the reconciliation government, including the ministries, the security sector, and the arms, and those blaming‘ Abbas and the PA for the worsening GS conditions are double those blaming Hamas.
Therefore, there is no justification for the PA and Fatah leadership to hold elections, if they do not guarantee victory. Otherwise, if Fatah does’t mind dealing with a Hamas-led council; why does it continue to disrupt the PLC (of a Hamas majority) for the past 12 years, and why did it dissolve it?! Why did it not implement the reconciliation agreement concerning the activation of this Council?!
The Israeli side has a great ability to disrupt the Palestinian elections, especially in the WB, including Jerusalem. It has an ultra-right drive and an agenda to continue settlement and Judaization programs, and has no intentions of allowing the Palestinian political house to be put in order (at least in the areas under its control). Continuing its multi-year policy of thwarting Hamas, pursuing its members and destroying its infrastructure, the Israeli side holds a “veto” on any Hamas victory and renewal of its legitimacy. It even seeks to subdue Fatah and other pro-peace factions, and ensure that the PA stays a functional entity that lacks any chance of becoming an independent fully sovereign state. Furthermore, nothing forces the Israelis to allow the Palestinians to build their national institutions that express their will, and this is the fifth indicator that it is difficult to hold the elections in the near future.
A sixth indicator supports the previous one, which is that the US policies are in alignment with the Israeli ones. The US wants the Palestinian side to be commensurate with the “deal of the century,” including giving Jerusalem to the Israelis, waiving the right of return, establishing a non-sovereign state on parts of the 1967 territories. Hence, any arrangement that would re-energize the Palestinian national project, or would include armed resistance factions and Islamic movements in the PLO and the PA, are rejected by the US that will try to thwart and disrupt them.
Seventhly, the Arab environment is weak and torn, its policies are in alignment with the US vision and the normalization policy with Israel. It is either hostile or opposed to resistance and “political Islam” movements. Consequently, it constitutes another hurdle to putting the Palestinian political house in order, in a way that would include all forces and constituents according to their real political weight. The Arab “legitimacy” continues to be granted to the peace process, and it does not allow resistance movements to rearrange the PLO or the PA on new bases that leave behind the Oslo Accords.
Based on the above, available information rule out holding Palestinian elections, not only in May, rather at least for the rest of 2019. What can be relied on is a genuine will to deal with the elections as an effective tool to re-arrange the Palestinian home on sound foundations, and not use it as a cover to exclude and marginalize Palestinian forces, nor as a tool to give more life to the worn-out Palestinian political system.
This article was originally published in TRT Arabic “trt.net.tr/arabic” on 27/2/2019.