Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Deja vu and the coming PA elections - Elliott Abrams

by Elliott Abrams

The unpopularity of the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah Party due to corruption, ‎incompetence, and growing repression helps explain why West Bank voters might choose ‎Hamas

Municipal elections are scheduled for October 8 in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas has ‎reversed its previous position and is now participating, and may win -- not as Hamas, per se, ‎but by putting forth "fellow traveler" candidates known to be close to Hamas. The elections ‎will likely be close.‎

The unpopularity of the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah Party due to corruption, ‎incompetence, and growing repression helps explain why West Bank voters might choose ‎Hamas. In other cases voters may prefer Hamas' Islamism to Fatah's brand of ‎secularism -- or may prefer Hamas' manifest desire to kill Israelis over Fatah's and the PA's ‎tamer stance. And there is another factor: In many areas Hamas is presenting a single ‎candidate while the non-Hamas vote is split among rival contenders. As The Times of Israel ‎reported about Hebron:‎

"These are the first elections in more than a decade in which voting is taking place at the ‎same time in both Gaza and the West Bank, and Hamas and Fatah are going head-to-‎head. ... As in the other cities in the West Bank, the trouble in Hebron is that because there ‎are so many secular slates of candidates, there is a reasonable chance that the more ‎moderate camp of Fatah and groups of its ilk will split the secular vote, paving the way for ‎victory by Hamas candidates.‎"

Deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra is said to have said. In the 2006 Palestinian ‎parliamentary elections, most of these same conditions existed and the result was a narrow ‎Hamas victory in the popular vote (44 to 41%) that produced a much larger Hamas ‎majority in parliament (74 to 45).‎

There is one difference from 2006 that is very much worth mentioning. The myth exists ‎that the United States forced the Palestinians to hold those elections over the objections of ‎the PA leadership. That's false (as I explained at length in my book about Bush ‎administration policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "Tested by Zion"). In fact, the ‎Palestinians had held a successful presidential election in January 2005 whose purpose was ‎to establish the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas as Yasser Arafat's successor. They wanted ‎parliamentary elections, again to strengthen Fatah's legitimacy, and were confident they ‎would win. We did not force them to hold the 2006 elections. Today, at least that argument ‎is over: No one is claiming that these elections of 2016 are being demanded by the United ‎States and imposed by the Obama administration on a reluctant PA leadership.‎

But the similarities to 2006 are very striking, including the most fundamental one: allowing ‎a terrorist group, Hamas, to contest the election without the slightest nod to stopping its ‎terror or giving up its rule of Gaza. This is wrong for many reasons, but here are the top two. ‎First, Hamas may win power in a number of West Bank cities but Fatah will not be able to ‎contest elections as freely in Gaza. In this sense the dice are loaded, or to mix ‎metaphors, Hamas can say heads I win in the West Bank and tails you lose in Gaza. Second, ‎those who wish to contest elections should be forced to choose between bullets and ballots. ‎This is what happened in the Northern Ireland agreements, where the Irish Republican Army had to end its ‎guerrilla and terrorist war and could then run for office. It is a mistake with global ‎implications to allow terrorist groups to have it all: to run for office like peaceful parties, but ‎continue their violent activities. That was the mistake we made in 2006, and it is being ‎repeated.‎

There is an argument for holding these elections, of course, and a powerful one. There have ‎been no parliamentary or presidential elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006 and ‎these elections provide at least a taste of democracy. They will tell us a good deal about ‎Palestinian public opinion. And perhaps in some cases they will produce better, meaning ‎more responsive and competent, municipal governments. But perhaps their clearest ‎achievement will be to show that nothing has changed since 2006 and indeed for decades ‎more: Fatah and Hamas are implacably at odds, Palestinians are split, the Palestinian ‎‎"national" government and national movement are hopelessly divided, Hamas' brand of ‎rejectionism and terror remains widely popular, and a negotiated peace agreement between ‎Israel and the Palestinians is nowhere in sight.‎

Well, one thing has changed since 2006: Abbas is 10 years older and his time in office is ‎closer to its end. Until succession issues are dealt with, the notion of serious Israeli-‎Palestinian negotiations is completely unrealistic -- whatever happens at the United Nations, ‎whatever the French suggest or the Russians try, and whatever the Obama administration ‎or its successor believe.‎

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This piece is reprinted from Abrams' blog "Pressure Points."


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