The Myth and the Math
January 23, 2005
As was anticipated, any newly elected Palestinian leader will face a number of very difficult challenges. As it was predicted, Mr. Abbas won the trust of the people for the political platform that he presented - a new future and a new era with a new agenda.
In his victory speech to the Palestinian Legislative Council on Jan 15th, he presented his new directions and priorities. This was a very decisive and positive speech that impressed almost everyone. It is very valuable to quote parts of that speech. The most interesting parts were his call to all the Palestinian movements and factions to unite: "We share one national cause; and even if our judgments may diverge, we defend one goal". He assured that he will fully adopt a policy and a system of democracy: "The people have voted for the rule of law, order, pluralism, the peaceful transfer of authority, and equality for all". He also affirmed his plans for serious steps towards reforming the Palestinian Authority: "The people have spoken for the end of occupation and the democratic choice – for the continuation and consolidation of the development and reform". He emphasized the necessity to have a full democratic society: "The election process (will continue) for civil organizations, trade unions, and political forces and factions so as to rejuvenate our domestic political life". Moreover, he confirmed that the road to end the conflict will be only through negotiations: "The PLO’s strategic choice; the choice of achieving just peace and our national goals is through negotiations. We are fully prepared to resume permanent status negotiations, and that we are politically ready to reach a comprehensive agreement over all of the issues. We will implement our obligations as a matter of Palestinian national interests". He also called to end violence: "We are seeking a mutual ceasefire to end the vicious circle. We are two peoples destined to live side by side, and to share this land between us".
But most of all I found his domestic agenda the most impressive: "Ending the occupation was and will remain at the top of our national Palestinian agenda, but it is not the only priority. Dealing with our domestic agenda…to build an enlightened, civilized society…the first step towards building our society lies in establishing the rule of law, only then we will be able to truly develop our institutions of governance and our political system. The rule of law is embodied in one authority and one legal weapon in the hand of this authority, within the framework of political pluralism and the peaceful periodic transfer of authority. Let law and democracy remain the only method of dealing with all aspects of our domestic concerns".
Now Mr. Abbas has to fulfill his obligations and to implement his commitments. The first signs have been promising, especially on the domestic issues. Mr. Abbas prefers to reach a (Hudna) ceasefire and a mutual understanding with the opposition on the national interests and agenda. The opposition has to make its own assessments. The strong victory of Mr. Abbas and the high turnout on Election Day prove that there is a majority of the Palestinian public’s support behind Mr. Abbas's political platform. Furthermore, this support should be seen as a public referendum backing this platform.
It is obvious that the opposition hasn’t absorbed this assessment and as a result they decided to challenge the newly elected President only two days after having been officially inaugurated as President of the Palestinian Authority. The opposition’s escalation of attacks against Israel was aimed mainly to achieve a political domestic goal and to test Mr. Abbas’s reaction and his capabilities. The attack at Al-Mintar (Karni crossing) targeted not only the Israelis who were killed, but Mr. Abbas himself, delivering a clear and vivid message to the newly elected President.
Out of their failure in the elections, the opposition who didn’t even present a competitive candidate, boycotted the elections out of the fear of the declining public support for their strategy and out of fear of reaching a total defeat. That is why they wanted to prove that they still exist. They wanted to impose their old agenda on the newly elected President. They were aiming to keep their presence felt and to send a message to Mr. Abbas: Do not exclude us otherwise we will be spoilers and we will destroy all of your efforts!
The opposition wanted to force Mr. Abbas to meet them and share with them his visions and responsibilities before he would begin implementing his obligations to the electorate. They wanted to achieve what they failed to achieve democratically. They targeted the main gateway of the Palestinian economy in Gaza knowing very well how that would affect the people of Gaza and their daily lives. Their narrow agenda only serves their own political interests. They tried to force Mr. Abbas to meet them. In behaving in this way, they have detached themselves from their own people. They have lost the moral right to claim that they are defending the people of Palestine.
Mr. Abbas has to guarantee his authority and the opposition has to know that the rule of law is the only authority and that the Palestinian Authority is the legitimate sovereign of the rule of law. All of us Palestinian citizens, including our President, Mr. Abbas, prefer to talk and to reach a Hudna based on respect of the Palestinian Authority and its institutions. But if Mr. Abbas fails to reach an agreement with the opposition, Mr. Abbas has to be tough on those who are challenging the legitimacy and the legality of the Palestinian Authority and of its strategy and interests. If Mr. Abbas needs to, he has all of the rights to use force to guarantee the rule of law. We have had enough of lawlessness. That was the message of the electorate.
The future of the opposition is at a crossroads. Hamas and the other opposition groups have to change their strategies. They have to realize that they were also responsible for the large public support of Mr. Abbas. The public supported the agenda of Mr. Abbas because they lost confidence in the strategies of the opposition that have caused the public and the Palestinian national interests such colossal damages. If they now want to play a positive role in the opposition, they should find the right strategy that the people will support. They must have their own positive agenda, now only saying what they oppose and definitely not working to destroy the achievements of the new President.
Disagreement on the basic legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority to govern should be considered an act of treason against the Palestinian people. The opposition must understand that legitimacy comes from democracy. Democratic government is empowered by political participation and not by boycotts and by violence. Mr. Abbas was not only elected with a large majority, he was given a referendum in support of his direction and policy. It was a referendum for all Palestinians, not only for those who choose to use democracy and for those who believe in it. Mr. Abbas has gained the trust of the people and the opposition has lost that trust. Now the people are waiting and hoping for Mr. Abbas to fulfill all of his political promises and agenda and for the rule of law and democracy to govern Palestine and the people will not tolerate an opposition who is working against the will of the people.
* Khaled Duzdar is the Palestinian Co-Director of IPCRI – The Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information