Holding free, credible and transparent Palestinian general elections, has been a persistent demand – first by Palestinians themselves, and then by the international community, as a starting point to revive the peace process. What could be concluded from describing the elections as “free, credible and transparent” is that they must be open to all qualified Palestinian factions, parties or individuals, to participate – either as candidates or voters. Otherwise they will stop being pluralistic – which is the main characteristic of democracy, and vast Palestinian sectors would be deprived from their rights to participate in the elections.
Israeli threats have recently escalated with regards to the participation of Hamas in the next parliamentary elections, slated for January 2006 – with Israel warning that security barriers will not be lifted during the voting period, thus Palestinians would not be able to reach the polling centers, should Hamas insist on participation in the elections. This would be a serious development; the least that could be said about it is that it is tantamount to a rejected interference in an internal Palestinian affair in which no outside party could be tolerated to interfere.
The Israeli government certainly has its own project of impossible conditions on the Palestinian Authority, aiming at virtually freezing the peace process, and putting obstacles in the path of the resumption of the final status negotiations – which began during the Camp David summit attended by the late President Yasser Arafat, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former US President Bill Clinton. Yet there is a clear strategy adopted by the Palestinian Authority which differs in its main lines, goals and mechanism from the Israeli program, but it will ultimately achieve some sort of stability and quiet within the Palestinian society, without resorting to confrontations or clashes that might lead to sparking the flames of a civil war between the Palestinians.
The core of the internal Palestinian strategy, publicized to the entire world, is initiating constructive dialogue and fomenting reconciliation with all factions, whether loyal or opposed to the PA, as a means to create understandings and social peace, to integrate all factions and parties in the Palestinian political structure and the governing institutions – at the head of which is the Legislative Council- consequently all factions will have a share in bearing the burdens and responsibilities, during the upcoming stages of the national struggle procession, to realize the legitimate national aspirations, namely ending the occupation and laying the foundations of the independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The Israeli interference in the Palestinian elections then, together with the attempts to impose impossible conditions on the Palestinians, would help to achieve only the Israeli goals aiming at freezing the peace process, and turning the Palestinians’ attention toward internal conflicts, designed to be tragic. This interference is regarded as a challenge to international will and to any rational approach for reforming the internal Palestinian situation, or giving the Palestinians, factions and individuals alike, the opportunity to contribute in building their future state.
This potential Israeli interference will have very negative impact inside the Palestinian community and, more significantly, on the results of the elections themselves. The question is: will the Israeli government, and the Israeli public at large, accept any foreign interference in their own elections? And, moreover, what will be the effect such interference might have on the attitude of the Israeli voters toward the parties and political blocs taking part in such elections?
Mohammed Shaker Abdallah is the editorial page editor at Al-Quds.