By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Frankly speaking, in a worn-out Palestinian political and institutional environment, and in the absence of reference figures and institutions governing national action, and the absence of freedom and integrity guarantees, while the political programs and priorities are in conflict, holding elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) is no more than a “recipe for failure.” It would be a recycle of the Palestinian national project crisis.
Elections are just a mechanism that is based on a set of systems, rules, foundations, controls and safeguards that would ensure the reasonable achievement of objectives. However, if these elections are used merely to break the stalemate, escape from reality, or for the benefit of the agenda of one party, they will only turn the situation into further frustration, and from bad to worse.
Where’s the Problem:
1. It is when the umbrella gathering the Palestinian people (the PLO) is in a dire state of weakness, deterioration and isolation. It is when it has failed to include key components and forces of the Palestinian people, renew its legislative and executive institutions, while being dominated by a single Palestinian faction for more than half a century.
2. When the Palestinian arena lives the contention of two opposing political programs, one that supports the peace process and is supported by the legitimacy of the President, his agreements with the Israeli occupation, and the official Arab and international support, while the other is based on a broad-based popular resistance program and the 2006 PLC legitimacy.
3. When the Palestinian Authority (PA) areas in the West Bank (WB) are controlled by those supporting the peace process and Fatah, while the Gaza Strip (GS) areas are controlled by Hamas and pro-resistance movements.
4. When Israel is an active player in the political, economic and security environment of WB and GS, can disrupt the elections, thwart their results and arrest the winners who are not acceptable to them. When it can make the work of any government fail, and arrest its ministers.
5. When the Arab and international parties are ready to push the elections towards reaching results that serve them, so that the 2006 elections “mistake” would not be repeated…
6. When there is no agreed upon Palestinian road map to deal with all the above mentioned points …
Therefore, the problem is not by escaping into elections, while all elements of disagreement and explosion remain. Insisting on mere elections would be self-deceiving, if not a deception of the Palestinian people and an escape from bad to worse!!
What’s the new that the elections will offer, that would make us avoid the problems and divisions that occurred after the 2006 elections?! At a time when the Palestinian, Israeli, Arab and international political environment is the same, rather even worse.
Have the reasons that prevented the elected PLC from operating for the past 12 years gone, or are they still the same?!?
Why didn’t the PLC function after the signing of the reconciliation agreement in May 2011. Were those who prevented it from functioning step aside, or have they changed their political behavior?
The bitter truth is that what they did instead is to insist on continuing to disrupt the PLC. They even dissolved it, contrary to all forms of Palestinian consensus, and contrary to the overwhelming popular majority which rejects such a measure. Moreover, they deprived the elected MPs of their salaries.
Surely, the problem was not in the elections that the Palestinians and the whole world witnessed their integrity and transparency, rather it was in a certain party that did not like these results and disrupted their output, and its behavior on the ground still does not give any indication of a real change.
The important and sensitive condition that Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian factions have ceded is that the presidential and legislative elections needed to be “synchronized,” in addition to the elections of the Palestinian National Council. This separation is contrary to the 2011 reconciliation agreement; it responds to the desire of ‘Abbas and the Fatah leadership to manage the elections in their own way.
However, the worst thing that may be done in that case is not to proceed with the presidential or PNC elections, if Hamas and the opposition forces won the elections. For the Fatah leadership (which heads the PA and PLO, and whose pro-peace process program has Arab and international support) can claim any excuses for not proceeding with electoral or reformist tracks.
This is not mere fiction, it is what actually happened after the 2006 elections. For example, in the summer of 2005, the Palestinian factional consensus was about a PNC of about 300 members as follows: 132 members are the new elected MPS as representatives of the Palestinians inside WB and GS, 132 members as representatives of the Palestinians abroad, and the rest are prominent Palestinian figures and symbols. However, all of these steps were cancelled, immediately after Hamas had won. The outgoing council, with more than 700 members, was retained under Fatah’s domination.
The PA Behavior on the Ground:
‘Abbas and the leadership of PA and Fatah, especially during the last three years, have imposed more hegemony and monopoly in the Palestinian arena, while marginalizing and subduing political opponents. For the sanctions on GS, the PA insistence on controlling “above ground and underground” (control of the resistance armament) in GS, the disruption of provisional leadership framework meetings, withholding the financial dues of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), holding meetings of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) without a Palestinian consensus (Even the PLO factions are boycotting), holding the PNC meeting in Ramallah contrary to the Beirut agreement (January 2017), dissolving the PLC (decision covered by the Constitutional Court), and the formation of a pro-Fatah government… cannot be considered but a further aggravation of the Palestinian arena and more of an arrogant behavior that cancels the other parties. If the Palestinian political environment preceding the 2006 elections was much better than the current political environment, and still there were problems and divisions after the election results that did not impress the Fatah leadership. Then, what behavior is expected in a worse and more regressive environment?
If Fatah and its allies won, without prior agreement on the management of the resistance file, they won’t be able to manage GS directly and completely. This would be the case even if they cornered Hamas that it has lost its “popular legitimacy,” and consequently there would be a continued state of division.
If Hamas and the resistance movement won, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to rule the WB, not even to have a real partnership in its management. This would happen not only because of the expected behavior of the PA and the security forces, but also because of the expected Israeli behavior, as well as that of the Arab and international parties, hostile to the resistance and the political Islam movements. In addition, after the experience following the 2006 elections, there is actually no real opportunity to implement Hamas’ “reform and change” platform. Furthermore, as long as Hamas do not meet the Quartet’s conditions, and do not give up on resistance, there is no real chance for it to lift the siege once and for all, especially that its former 13 year-“legitimacy” did not help it do so.
In other words, the pre-election crises will be carried over to the post-election period, regardless of who will score more points during elections.
According to Abbas’s political behavior over the past years, his main goal in the elections is meaningless, unless it is a further step to “de-legitimize” Hamas in GS, and force it to hand over power to Abu Mazen and the Fatah leadership. This brings us back to the need for pre-election solutions and consensus on key issues.
What are the Guarantees:
The current Palestinian political system, especially that of the PA, do not offer sufficient guarantees of free and fair elections, and that it would respect the election results and entitlements.
There is a need to dissolve the current Fatah government, and form an agreed on transitional government that would sponsor the electoral process, and guarantee freedoms and transparency of procedures.
There is also a need to restructure the Constitutional Court affiliated with Fatah and ‘Abbas, and to establish a special electoral court.
Freedoms must be made available in the PA territories, propaganda campaigns of all movements and factions must be allowed, and all forms of political detention must be stopped.
The Israeli attempts to thwart the electoral process or prevent the PLC from doing its tasks must be stopped. This would include agreeing on the right of the detained MP to delegate a person, and on ways to convene the Council in any exceptional circumstances.
There is a need to agree on a charter that would commit all parties to go on with the elections to reach the legislative, presidential and PNC results, until the political system itself is reformed.
What Authority Are We Talking About?
The enthusiasm that accompanies consensus on elections must not make us unaware that the PLC is that of an authority under occupation, and betting on it as a tool of change is limited and insignificant. Israel can thwart it and disable it.
Also, elections must not make us unaware that the authority being contested was over time subdued and emptied of its content by Israel. The PA is no longer a real project to reach a fully sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 territories. It has become a “functional security service entity” that serves Israel’s purposes, more than the Palestinian national project.
Any organized movement or list that wins the elections—No matter how popular it is, and how efficient and sincere their figures and ministers are—will remain governed by the Israeli conditions imposed on the ruling PA in WB, and will remain under siege unless it complies with its requirements in GS.
Therefore, the “legislative” elections are not the “magic” recipe to solve the crisis of the Palestinian national project. It is, at best, part of the “democratic process” that may reflect the size of the Palestinian forces at home, and would contribute to the completion of the Palestinian political system at home and abroad. In case the PLC finds a real chance to be activated, it may contribute to controlling the PA and improving its performance.
For more than eight years following the reconciliation agreement of 2011, the PA leadership and Fatah have been increasingly controlling and dominating the internal Palestinian environment (While its role was declining and its vulnerability has been growing under occupation). By holding the PNC and the PCC, dissolving the PLC, forming a PA government as it wishes, and cancelling the synchronization of the presidential and legislative elections, the PA leadership and Fatah were able to drag the other Palestinian factions towards their arena and conditions.
At the same time, all the fundamental issues associated with reforming the Palestinian political system, putting an appropriate political program to manage this phase, determine the priorities and the position towards the resistance and peace settlement tracks, have all remained existing crises that may explode at any time.
This means that the elections will reproduce the same crises unless things are remedied.
In short, Palestinian decision-making must free itself from the domination of the occupation. The genuine track starts with the reconstruction of the PLO and its institutions, overcoming the Oslo Accords and their remnants, and reinstating a national program that maintains the Palestinian fundamentals.
This article was originally published in Arabic on “Arabi 21” on 8/11/2019.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 20/11/2019