Israeli Arrests in West Bank Threaten to Disrupt Palestinians Election
If Israel continues to impede vote, it must expect devastating results, Palestinian academic says
[Gaza City] Over the past few months, Israeli forces in the West Bank have arrested a number of Palestinian citizens and candidates in the parliamentary election scheduled for May 22. On Monday evening, in the latest incident, Najeh Asi, a member of Hamas’ “Al-Quds [Jerusalem] Is Our Destiny” candidates list, was taken into custody in Ramallah.
Fatah activists also have been arrested, including Awad al-Salaymeh and Ahed al-Risheq, who were detained earlier this month before holding a consultative meeting on the legislative vote in East Jerusalem.
Palestinians consider the Israeli actions blatant violations of their rights and arbitrary measures designed to derail the election.
“Arresting Asi … reflects the barbarity of the occupation, which is based on terror and intimidation, and is an attempt to influence the election results in advance, but these arrests will fail to break the resolve of our people,” Alaa Hmaidan, the spokesman for Al-Quds Is Our Destiny, said on Tuesday.
On the same day, Hamas issued a statement confirming there would be no retreat from the election battle: “Our Palestinian people will have their say through the ballot box and will choose their leadership that restores cohesion and leads the stage of national liberation.”
Munir al-Jaghoub, a spokesman for Fatah, the ruling party in the PA, told The Media Line, “The arrest of candidates on the Palestinian electoral lists by the occupation is part of an aggressive campaign aimed at thwarting the election, but this will not prevent our people, our leadership and our factions from continuing to prepare for the elections and following the program prepared by the Election Commission, and [will not prevent Palestinian] prisoners [held by Israel] from continuing to run despite all the Israeli attempts to derail the process.”
Elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council were held in 1996 and 2006. Both times, Israeli authorities allowed residents of East Jerusalem to vote at Israeli post offices in the city. No response has yet been issued regarding a request to do the same for May’s parliamentary vote.
The Israeli government is concerned that Hamas will win the election, and there are increasing calls to prevent the vote in Jerusalem, which might lead the Palestinian Authority to cancel the election entirely.
Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, who completed his term as the head of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit on April 6, said, in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster five days earlier: “It is a very big mistake to go to these elections due to the high risk Hamas will win, and therefore anything that serves this [a Hamas victory] − my recommendation is to not go along with it.”
Abu Rukun warned that Israel “will stop everything,” i.e., all security coordination, if Hamas wins the parliamentary election. “That, at least, will be my recommendation, based on things that happened in the past and on what I see in the field,” he stated.
Yet fear of a Hamas win is not the only factor behind the increase in Israeli detentions in the West Bank and Jerusalem, according to Ahmad Awad, a writer and head of the Future Studies Center at Al-Quds Open University.
He believes Israel’s arrest campaign has several motivations.
“First, to disrupt the Palestinian electoral process. And second, to cause security tensions, especially in the West Bank, by luring Palestinians into uncontrolled reactions. And finally, to confuse the candidates and voters,” Awad told The Media Line.
Israel, he said, is the greatest beneficiary of the absence of Palestinian elections, because “it wants to maintain the negative image of Palestinians [as] gangs and militia instead of civilized people who want to choose their representatives freely and peacefully. …
“Israel wants to turn the [Fatah-Hamas] division into a complete separation [between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip], and thus continue its settlement activities and escape any kind of [international] resolutions, under the pretext of not finding representatives for the Palestinians,” Awad said.
With Israel continuing to stay silent regarding allowing holding Palestinian elections in Jerusalem, several scenarios are possible.
Awad suggests: “There might be some international pressure at some point to make it happen [in East Jerusalem]. … However, I prefer that we don’t rely on the international intervention, because if the international community has no real interest in this happening [holding the election] then nothing will actually change.”
Another possibility is “that Palestinians might be able to find technical solutions that enable them to hold elections without Israel’s approval/disapproval,” Awad added.
“Or,” he continued, “residents of Jerusalem themselves might act on their own, maybe with people acting on their own in ways that we don’t expect.”
The last scenario, Awad continued, is that “elections might not happen at all due to the Israeli refusal, thereby creating a new subject of engagement between Israelis and Palestinians.”
He did not rule out the possibility of popular violence as a result.
“It’s a historic equation: Despair and frustration might lead to nonsense, to violence, to anything, actually. When Israel deprives Palestinians of the right to hold elections, it is pushing them to frustration. It must expect devastating results from that,” Awad said.
There are signs on the ground that support this theory and increased chances of an imminent escalation.
Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper revealed on Tuesday, citing sources in Hamas, that the movement had conveyed a message to an Egyptian delegation in Gaza to discuss “security calm” and prisoners’ files that an explosion of the situation in the Strip, in the form of both popular and military actions, “is strongly possible if the occupation impedes the elections, especially in Jerusalem.”