Early Palestinian elections
Article added on August 6, 2007
On July 18, 2007, the President of the Palestinian
Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, called for early elections. He has not yet set a
date. It also remains unclear how he would organize a vote in the Gaza Strip
where Hamas rules.
Today, on August 6, 2007 Mahmoud Abbas will meet the Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert in the West Bank city of Jericho. Olmert's support for the
Palestinian Authority Chairman, also known as Abu Mazen, has not yet gone
farther than the release of some 250 prisoners. Over 10,000 Palestinian
prisoners still remain in Israeli custody. Will Olmert finally send out a
strong signal today?
Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in a coup or
civil war in June 2007, the United States, the European Union and
Russia all are in support of Abbas. According to Jerusalem sources, the U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced last weekend that the Middle
East peace conference announced by U.S. President George W. Bush will take
place in the United States in November 2007.
Today, Olmert and Abbas will open talks on broad principles for a
Palestinian state in order to prepare the November peace conference. It
remains unclear which key issues will be on the agenda.
Everybody agrees that there is a new momentum in the Palestinian-Israeli
talks. However, fundamentals within the Palestinian camp - such as the
future of the Gaza Strip - remain unclear. According to Haaretz,
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad told Israeli officials that the PA's
security forces are unable
“to impose law and order in the West Bank at this time”.
In July, the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
- dominated by members from Abbas' Fatah - gave the go-ahead to President
Abbas to organize early elections. However, Hamas is not represented in the
PLO and still questions Abbas' legitimacy to call for early elections.
Despite all the uncertainties, the Abbas - Olmert meeting, which will focus
“agreement of principles”, is an important symbolic step towards a
two-state solution. It is the first time since the outbreak of the
Intifada in September 2000 that an Israeli prime minister visits the PA.
Abbas and Olmert will speak head-to-head in private. Despite the
international support for their initiative, both leaders are relatively
weak. Olmert is tainted by several scandals and blunders, including his
Lebanon War. President Abbas has no deep-rooted power base in Palestine. His
authority stems from the fact that he has been elected by the Palestinian
The other Palestinian hopeful, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, cannot even
claim that. He was appointed by Abbas on the basis of a
“national emergency”. He was neither confirmed by the Palestinian Legislative
Council nor by a popular vote.
According to a poll conducted by the research center of the al-Najjah
University in the West Bank city of Nablus at the end of July, early
elections were supported by some 70% of Palestinians living in Nablus.
Almost 70% said that the PLO was the sole and legitimate representative of
all Palestinians. Some 50% believed that Hamas should join the PLO executive
committee. If early elections were held now, Hamas would only win some 15%
while Fatah would garner 42% of the votes.
This situation is dangerous since it could lead Abbas and Fatah to the
conclusion that, with the support of the international community, they can
continue without fundamental change. If Fatah is unable and unwilling to
renew itself and just relies on the unpopularity of Hamas to win the next
election, Palestine is doomed.
A new party could be one of the solutions for Palestine. Abbas has not
profoundly renewed Fatah, which largely remains a party of incompetent and
corrupt politicians. Hamas has not been able to make the passage from
a terrorist group to a responsible political party.
A new party could bring a fresh wind into Palestinian politics.
Before the last election, the internationally respected economist Salam
Fayyad - today's Prime Minister - was courted by Fatah. He decided not to
run for Fatah but instead created - together with Hanan Ashrawi and Yasser
Abed Rabbo - a new party, the Third Way Party. It only won 2.4% of the
popular vote and two of the Palestinian Council's 132 seats. Today, the
people of Palestine may be ready to embrace and new party with credible
Even with a new party created, Hamas will still hold the key to the creation
of a Palestinian state. As long as Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, without
renouncing violence and without recognizing Israel's right to exist, peace
and prosperity remain unachievable. Hamas cannot rule in the Gaza Strip
without outside help, without the cooperation of Israel. If Hamas continues
to close its eyes to reality, the Sunni militants may one day be chased away
by their own voters.
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