Are You Surprised?: A Reflection on the Palestinian Elections

By Samia Khoury
Sunday, January 29, 2006

On January 25 — ten years after the first elections, which the Palestinians held in 1996 under the terms of the Oslo Accords — the Palestinians held their second elections for the legislative council. All went well, and 77% of the people who had the right to vote went to the polls. The Elections Central Committee was commended on its professional and transparent work, which guaranteed a smooth election day. The results were announced twenty-four hours after the closure of the polling stations with a landslide victory for Hamas, which won 76 seats out of 132. That Hamas would score highly in the elections was no surprise, but that Fatah, the ruling faction of the PLO and of the Palestinian Authority since its establishment in 1993, should get only 43 seats was shocking to many Palestinians, and certainly to Fatah itself.

Those results reflect voters’ frustration at Fatah’s failure to arrive at a political solution for Palestine’s problems and disappointment in the performance of the Palestinian Authority. They furthermore reflect the will of the people to maintain their threatened identity amidst an onslaught of foreign hegemony. Religion, being an integral part of the ethos of any community, becomes a natural refuge under these circumstances.

Fatah should not be surprised at the results of the elections, since it is partly to blame for the disappointment and frustration prevailing in the Palestinian Territories. Everybody on the political scene realizes that we are still under a brutal Israeli military occupation, but people still were hoping that the Palestinian Authority would improve everyday life for Palestinians. They were looking forward for law and order, for discipline and security, for solutions to poverty and unemployment. And most of all, they were yearning for restored human dignity, respect, and public welfare which had been eroded and trampled upon by the long years of military occupation. Unfortunately, the nine other political slates besides Hamas and Fateh could not succeed in joining forces to run as single alternative to both Hamas and Fatah.

Before the results were out, we kept hearing official voices from the USA and Israel announcing that there will be no peace process if Hamas wins, and that there is no chance for the Road Map under Hamas. The Europeans sounded worried as well, realizing that a Hamas government in Palestine would force them to face serious change. Yet none of those official voices had the courage to admit that the peace process was already on hold due to the Israeli intransigence.

How ironic that Mr. Shimon Peres has joined the chorus of those expressing grave concern about making peace with Hamas. We all recall how as prime minister he dismally failed to carry out the legacy of peace for which he, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the late President Arafat got the Nobel Peace Prize. Peres and his woeful chorus pretend not to understand the source of the Palestinian people’s frustration, but they have been witnessing Israel violating U.N. resolutions and international law as well as using sophisticated and extensive weaponry to wage a relentless war on the Palestinian civilian population, and they share the blame for Fatah’s failure, as they stood by passively or offered resources and encouragement to Israel’s attempts to erode Fatah’s authority.

The Road Map that Israeli spokesmen said would not be possible to implement under Hamas was never fully accepted by Israel, which has consistently blocked its implementation and the establishment of a Palestinian State through means such as building an illegal concrete wall eight meters tall to divide the Palestinian territories. So let us not pretend that peace was around the corner before Hamas’ electoral victory, which at most heightened the already astronomical odds against peace barring a major shift in Israeli policy.

Hamas was not part of the PLO when Oslo was signed, and it did not participate in the first elections in 1996. Neither did it participate in the presidential elections in January 2005 after the death of President Arafat. And though it is a resistance movement, Hamas agreed to a period of calm to give Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, the newly elected president, a chance to pursue his political agenda after Arafat, who had been considered redundant by Israel and the USA. But Israel did not appreciate that gesture and did not abide by any agreement, choosing instead to persist in provoking the Palestinians, raiding their homes and camps, targeting their activists, and doing so with impunity.

While the USA turned a blind eye to Israeli violations, it considered Mr. Ariel Sharon, the leader of the right wing Likud party of Israel, a man of peace despite his actions and bloody history. I am inclined to think that in claiming that they would not deal with a Palestinian government including Hamas, Israel and the USA were using a strategy of reverse psychology, secretly hoping that a Hamas win would justify whatever actions they wished to take against the Palestinians and their new leadership, and that members of the international community who endorse Israel’s labeling of Hamas as a terrorist movement would support further crackdown on Palestinians under a Hamas government.

The Palestinian Authority has long experienced external and internal calls for reform. Hamas responded to those calls, and won the elections with a platform promising reform. Their victory at the polls demonstrates just how deeply voters wanted change. But how much of that change will happen — and how much of it will be positive — remains anyone’s guess.


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