By Ramzy Baroud
The call by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas for elections in the Occupied Territories is a political ploy. There will be no true, democratic elections under Abbas’ leadership. The real question is: Why did he make the call in the first place?
On Sept. 26, Abbas took to the world’s most important political platform — the UN General Assembly — to call for“general elections in Palestine — in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”
The Palestinian leader prefaced his announcement with a lofty emphasis on the centrality of democracy in his thinking. “From the outset, we have believed in democracy as a foundation for the building of our state and society,” he said with unmistakable self-assurance. But, as it turned out, it was only Hamas — not Israel, and certainly not the PA’s own undemocratic and corrupt legacy — that made Abbas’ democratic mission impossible.
Upon his return from New York, Abbas formed a committeewhose mission, according to official Palestinian media, is to consult with various Palestinian factions regarding the promised elections.
Hamas immediately acceptedthe call for elections, though it asked for further clarifications. The core demand of the Islamist group, which controls the besieged Gaza Strip, is an election that includes the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the PA presidency and, most importantly, the Palestine National Council (PNC) — the legislative component of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
While the PLO has fallen under the tight grip of Abbas and a clique within his own Fatah party, the remaining institutions have operated without any democratic, popular mandates for nearly 13 years. The last PLC elections were heldin 2006, followed by a Hamas-Fatah clashthat resulted in the current political rift between the two parties. As for Abbas’ own mandate, that expiredin 2009. This means that Abbas, who supposedly believes in “democracy as the foundation for the building of our state,” is a president with no real mandate to rule over Palestinians.
Not that Palestinians are shying away from making their feelings clear. Time after time, they have asked Abbas to leave. But the 83-year-old is bent on remaining in power; however one defines “power” under the yoke of Israeli military occupation.
The prevalent analysis following Abbas’ call for elections is that such an undertaking is simply impossible, considering the circumstances. To begin with, after winning the US’ recognitionof Jerusalem as its capital, Israel is unlikely to allow the Palestinians to include East Jerusalem in any vote.
Hamas, on the other hand, is likely to reject the inclusion of Gaza if the elections are limited to the PLC and exclude Abbas’ own position and the PNC. Without a PNC vote, the reordering and resurrection of the PLO would remain elusive — a belief that is shared by other Palestinian factions.
Being aware of these obstacles, Abbas must already know that the chances of real, fair, free and truly inclusive elections are negligible. But his call is a last, desperate move to quell growing resentment among Palestinians over his decades-long failure to utilize the so-called peace process to achieve his people’s long-denied rights.
There are three main factors compelling Abbas to make this move at this time.
First, the demise of the peace process and the two-state solution, through a succession of Israeli and American measures, has left the PA, and Abbas in particular, isolated and short on funds. Palestinians who supported such political illusions no longer constitute the majority.
Second, the PA constitutional court resolved, last December, that the president should call for an election within the next six months — by June 2019. The court, itself under Abbas’ control, aimed to provide the Palestinian leader with a legal outlet to dismiss the previously elected parliament, whose mandate expired in 2010, and create new grounds for his political legitimacy. Still he failed to adhere to the court’s decision.
Third, and most importantly, the Palestinian people are clearly fed up of Abbas, his authority and all the political shenanigans of the factions. In fact, 61 percent of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza want Abbas to step down, according to a September opinion pollby the Palestinian Center for Political and Polling Research.
The same poll indicates that Palestinians reject the entire political discourse that has served as the foundation for Abbas and his PA’s political strategies. Moreover, 56 percent of Palestinians oppose the two-state solution; up to 50 percent believe that the performance of the current PA government of Mohammed Shtayyeh is worse than that of his predecessor; and 40 percent want the PA to be dissolved.
Tellingly, 72 percent of Palestinians want legislative and presidential elections held throughout the Occupied Territories. The same percentage wants the PA to lift its share of the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.
Abbas is now in his weakest political position since his advent to leadership many years ago. With no control over political outcomes that are determined by Tel Aviv and Washington, he has resorted to making a vague call for elections that have no chance of success.
While the outcome is predictable, Abbas hopes that, for now, he will once more appear as the committed leader who is beholden to international consensus and the wishes of his own people. It will take months of wasted energy, political wrangling and an embarrassing media circus before the election ploy falls apart, ushering in a blame game between Abbas and his rivals that could last months, if not years.
This is hardly the strategy that the Palestinian people — living under brutal occupation and a suffocating siege — need or want. The truth is that Abbas, and whatever political class he represents, has become a true obstacle in the path of a nation that is in desperate need of unity and a meaningful political strategy. What the Palestinian people urgently require is not a halfhearted call for elections but a new leadership — a demand they have articulated repeatedly, though Abbas refuses to listen.