Electoral coup in Palestine

There is no doubt that the recent legislative council elections in Palestine were an electoral coup. Due to the nature of this coup and because of the current conditions at the regional and international level, it will be extremely difficult for Hamas to assume the responsibility of forming the next Palestinian government alone.

The Palestinian Legislative Council elections cannot be isolated from the fact that they were not held in a sovereign state. They were conducted under a national authority with incomplete sovereignty within its territories torn apart, disconnected and besieged by the occupation. It is the same authority that was established in 1994 when the majority of the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, refused then to participate in it and in the elections for its Legislative Council in 1996. Many factions did so under the pretext that this was an authority created under occupation and governed by agreements and commitments that damaged the rights of the Palestinian people and closed the door on the process toward liberation and independence.

This claim was made without taking into consideration the nature of the struggle against occupation. Some benefits and relative achievements were imposed by the above-mentioned agreements and commitments, including the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the return of the PLO leadership from abroad despite all restrictions imposed on it.

This return to the homeland led to a transformation in the Palestinian political system, because activism on behalf of the Palestinian people moved to the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian leadership for the first time was placed face to face with the masses and in direct political, social and economic responsibility to the people, exposing it to criticism and accountability.

This 10-year process, however, was affected by a series of factors, namely the intensity of the conflict with the occupation, especially in this current intifada and the growing popularity of Hamas movement, which did become a real and effective competitor with the Fatah movement. These developments were affected negatively by Fatah’s monopolization and abuse of authority and the absence of any form of political or social cooperation especially with the leftist and democratic forces that could have mitigated Fatah’s monopoly on power.

It should be noted within the same context that the need to contain and absorb the state of internal unrest, bad economic conditions and the spread of unemployment led Fatah to launch the policy of “political employment.” Cadres and members of the ruling party were given political authority in order to reinforce the base of Fatah’s power, thus fostering conditions for poor political leadership, favoritism and bureaucracy, which made matters even worse.

As a result, the crisis inside Fatah escalated, and the state of insecurity and chaos expanded. To ordinary citizens, the situation was becoming more difficult and didn’t seem as though it could be rectified or reformed except through replacing the old tools and the unsuccessful methods and approaches. Therefore, the people decided to change their leadership through the ballot boxes last January and elect Hamas to a majority of the Palestinian Legislative Council seats.

In any case, it is naïve to say that improving Palestine’s internal situation can be done through elections only, or by replacing Fatah with Hamas. This electoral shift will remain incomplete and limited if both Fatah and Hamas aren’t ready to follow the “mutual concessions” formula that is part of the national consensus program. First, Fatah must retreat from its previous practice of trying to monopolize power by failing to give legitimate Palestinian institutions their due importance and consideration, starting with PLO institutions. For its part, Hamas must join the Palestinian political system and find a way to respond to the national consensus program called for in the Declaration of Independence and the international legitimacy resolutions.

Recent statements made by Hamas leaders gave the impression that it will participate in the PNA and in the government, but to the extent that it will not hold any contact or direct negotiations with Israel. Further, Hamas says it will seek to offer only the minimum commitments that accompany such a participation. This position was expressed by showing readiness to commit to a long-term truce and to accept the transitional or long interim solution.

But Hamas’ proposals for dividing political functions between those who negotiate and hold contacts with the Israelis and those who assume other government affairs is not an adequate formula and lacks any political basis. They will probably be rejected by the potential partners in the next government, including Fatah.

Therefore, Hamas’ participation in the PNA necessitates answering an important question: How it can match the election promises that helped it win a majority and the reality of the PNA with its commitments and the international agreements that have been signed? Moreover, large sectors of the Palestinian people are concerned about Hamas’ social program, especially in the area of freedom of expression, the status of women and personal liberties and rights of the individuals and other matters.

In conclusion, we totally reject all forms of interference in Palestinian internal affairs and the U.S. and Israeli pressure exerted on our people at the political and economic levels. We also oppose the oppressive international campaign against Hamas which at the same time ignores Israel and which does not demand from Israel to end its occupation and recognize the national and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

On the other hand, the question that remains to be posed is to what extent is Hamas ready to meet with the national consensus program ratified by the PLO? This takes us back to the “mutual concession” formula based on common national denominators that should strengthen the internal front, in order to overcome the current crisis and prevent national divisions, conflict and chaos that will be against everybody’s interests. We are waiting Hamas’ answers to see if it can agree with the current national consensus formula.

Hannah Amireh is a member of the executive council of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a leader of the Palestinian People’s Party.