Hamas refused to take part in these elections, citing a police-state atmosphere and the absence of civil liberties under Fatah’s rule.
The decision by the Ramallah leadership to hold election despite the ongoing rift with Hamas is apparently intended to strengthen Fatah’s grip on power in the occupied territory.
It may also be intended to divert people’s intention from the crushing economic crisis grinding most Palestinians. The crisis manifests itself in obscenely high costs of living, rampant poverty and hopelessly low incomes, forcing many Palestinian families to adopt severe austerity measures, including cutting on consumption of some basic commodities.
According to observers and some sporadic opinion polls, the success of the elections from Fatah’s viewpoint, will depend on the extent of the boycott.
Some Fatah activists expressed pessimism in this regard.
“I am worried the turnout will not exceed 50%. In the worst-case scenario, it may not even reach the 35%-mark. In this case, Hamas will win without casting a single vote,” said Ahmed Qawasmeh, a Fatah spokesman in Hebron.
Qawasmeh also attributed his pessimism to “the absence of unity” among Fatah candidates.
“We see Fatah people competing against each other. This is at odd with the rhetorical claims that Fatah is united. Fatah has not learned from its defeat in 2006 at the hands of Hamas.”
Another Fatah leader, Hussein Amr, voiced cautious optimism, He argued that Fatah was still the best organized group and that its chances of winning were fairly good.
“I believe Fatah will win in some towns and most of the villages. Fatah has been preparing for these polls for months. Besides, Fatah should benefit from Hamas’s boycott unless of course Hamas’s supporters choose to give their votes to Fatah’s rivals,” said Suleiman al Ja’abari, a Hebronite activist and local politician.
None the less, there is a wide agreement among various political and social forces that public apathy will be a decisive factor in the elections.
This widespread indifference is not solely attributed to Hamas’s decision to boycott the polls. A combination of frustration, disenchantment with the PA regime, and stinging economic troubles is making many people shun the elections.
This is not to say though that ordinary people have become less political than before or apolitical.
“It is just that many people think that these elections are not going to change anything. In the final analysis, a local council’s ability to bring about positive changes is very limited,” said Muhammed Natshe, an Islamist-leaning activist in Hebron.
“What can they do? The water is in Israel’s hands. The electricity is in Israel’s hands. The roads and border crossings are controlled by Israel,” said the middle-aged Palestinian businessman.
“Hence, even if the best people were elected, they still wouldn’t be able to do much.”
The Israeli factor
Despite the hullabaloo about Palestinian democracy, Israel still has effectively the final say in Palestinian affairs. Israeli officials said on many occasions that they would arrest Hamas’s candidates campaigning for or taking part in elections.
Neither the PA nor the international community can give meaningful guarantees against Israeli interference in elections.
“Some people might blame Hamas for boycotting the elections. But I want to ask these people: Can you guarantee that Islamist candidates wouldn’t be rounded up by the Israeli army and dumped in concentration camps in the desert? So, what is the point of participating in the elections if by so doing one risks spending many months or years of his life in captivity?” argued Walid Suleiman, an Islamist activist from the town of Dura in the southern West Bank.
Suleiman is not opposed to elections per se. He says that the people have an inherent right to elect their local councils.
“But the process of choosing our representatives must be fair, free, unfettered and transparent. And above all, all participating groups and parties must be granted equal opportunities.”
Suleiman said virtually all Palestinians were being hounded and targeted by Israel and its intelligence agencies.
“But no one can deny the fact that Israel has a fixation on Hamas whereas Fatah and other PLO factions act relatively freely in the West Bank.”
In addition, it is unlikely that Israel would allow any elections in the West Bank to take place if there were the slightest chance the Islamists would win.
This is one of the main reasons why Hamas doesn’t participate in the current elections.
Israel and the PA coordinate security measures against Hamas. Hence, it is virtually impossible for the PA to restore unity with Hamas while continuing to have security coordination with Israel against Hamas.
“The two tasks are irreconcilable,” said Walid Suleiman, cited above.
The local Palestinian elections come at a time when the political process between Israel and the Palestinians reached a virtual deadlock.
PA leader Mahmoud Abbas this week warned Israel of an “Islamist Tsunami” in case a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state was not established.
However, a manifestly arrogant and insolent Israel, emboldened by Jewish political dominance over American politics, refuses to heed such warnings from a conceivably weak and demoralized Palestinian leadership.
Flying in the face of the Palestinian leadership as well as the international community, the Israeli government this week embarked on two significant provocations.
First, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu adopted the so-called “Levy Report” which considers the West Bank as a “non-occupied territory.” This paves the way for the legalization of all or most illegal settlement outposts built on arrogated private land.
Second, the Israeli government has decided to build hundreds of additional settler units for new Jewish immigrants near the Arab town of Beit Jala near Bethlehem.
The unrelenting aggrandizement of the Jewish settlement enterprise means, at least from the Palestinians’ perspective, is that Israel is hell bent on destroying whatever chances there still may be for the two-state solutions.