[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]

 

January 27, 2006

 

This week in Palestine….. Behind the news with Hanna Siniora

 

Democratic Change

 

In one day this January 25th, 2006, for the first time in the modern history of the Arab world, change took place through the ballot box and it caused a political earthquake. The Fateh administration was voted out of office not by tanks, not through a coup d’etat, not through violence, but through the will of the people asking for drastic change, the result was simply Fateh out Hamas in.

 

As usual the pollsters were wrong. The team at Bir Zeit University and Dr. Khalil Shikaki’s PSR organization both wrongly predicted a Fateh victory using a sample of exit votes. Bir Zeit predicted that Fateh will get 63 seats to Hamas 58, Shikaki predicted Fateh getting 58 while Hamas getting 53. Palestinians and the media that night went to bed believing that Fateh scored a narrow victory.

 

When the next morning the official results became known, it fell like a bombshell on Palestinians, Israelis, the USA and the EU. By night fall of the 26 of January the official results were announced and everybody saw how extensive the Hamas victory was. The election took place using the two parallel systems, the proportional part for 66 seats resulted in Hamas wining 30, Fateh 27, the PFLP 3, the Alternative list 2, the Independent Palestine List of Dr. Mustafa Barghouti 2, and the Third Way List of formal Finance Minister Salam Fayyad and Hanan Ashrawi 2. In the 16 local districts Hamas received 46 seats, Fateh 16, and 4 for independents. Fateh was soundly trounced, and the people wished for change became quite clear.

 

1.3 million Palestinians had the right to vote, 77.6% participated and for the first time in East Jerusalem, Jerusalemites in great numbers exercised their right to vote to the tone of nearly 50%, the highest percentage since the occupation started. The Palestinian Central Election Committee in the post polling had to extend the voting and additional 2 hours.

 

Prominent Fateh leaders in Hebron like Head of PA National Security Advisor lost, in East Jerusalem Fateh lost all Muslim 4 seats, the same happened elsewhere in Ramallah, in Nablus and other West Bank cities, the route was almost complete in the Gaza Strip, with the exception of Mohammad Dahlan who got elected. In the 16 districts Fateh managed to salvage 16 seats out of 66 seats a very poor showing.

 

Evaluation

 

Blame can assigned for this poor showing to all the Fateh rank and file. President Mahmoud Abbas who conducted fair and square elections is to be blamed for not putting his house in order. Abbas and the Fateh leadership had postponed the date of the elections from July 2005 to January 2006 to gain time to reorganize Fateh. They are to be blamed for postponing the Fateh conference until after the elections which should have been held before the parliamentary elections. Abbas introduced the primary system to choose candidates; Fateh toyed with it, instead of free and clean primaries to choose candidates, fraud and force took place openly in a way an accentuating the corruption charge hanging over Fateh. Additionally, Fateh fielded in the local districts official and non-official candidates, for example in the Jerusalem district Hamas nominated 4 candidates for the 4 Muslim seats while Fateh had 30 candidates. This spread and diluted the Fateh vote and led to the sound defeat in every district in the West Bank. Out of the 16 seats Fateh won in the districts, 5 safe seats were assigned to the Christian Palestinian quota, those seats Hamas did not contest.

 

Political Repercussions  

 

In Palestine, those who felt the deep desire of the Palestinian electorate for change estimated a narrow Fateh victory, maybe a tide elections, few if any expected Hamas to emerge in full control of the PLC. The people heard Israel, the USA, and even the EU statements of dire consequences if Hamas became part of the next government. The people in their quest for change took the risk of losing economic and political support in order to punish Fateh for its corruption. Fateh’s mismanagement and flouting the rule of law, the people desired change after 12 years of Fateh rule.

 

For Hamas in opposition it was always easy to criticize. Now Hamas has a heavy of load of responsibility and duties to shoulder, on one hand they have to steer the ship of state to safety and to independence. As a religious fundamentalist movement they have to negotiate with Israel and be accepted by the West. Is Hamas able to modify its ideology? or Are they going to stick rigidly to its platform?

 

In the election campaign, Hamas managed to send signals of flexibility, they discarded the slogan calling for the destruction of Israel, Hamas announced its readiness to negotiate directly with Israel. They entered the democratic process of elections based on the Oslo agreements, while declaring that Oslo is dead. But what was important, tangible and real, and they continue to adhere the ceasefire.

 

Hamas, in a similar manner to the PLO before it is undergoing a process of transformation, history is repeating itself. Hamas is obliged to uphold its promises and pledges to its public to steer the ship of state to safety, to reexamine its platform, this is not going to happen overnight. In this process, it is a do or die situation, they have the responsibility of delivering the people form the burden of occupation as well as implementing their social and economic program. Militancy and armed confrontation of the occupation are not the tools of Hamas at the head of the PA they have also to change otherwise they will be isolated. The EU have to again be the vehicle in a similar role they played in the past with the PLO, the EU started it with the Venice declaration of 1980, the USA followed suite in the waning days of the Regan administration and Israel through the Oslo Accords. Hamas also must reciprocate otherwise it will be ostracized and isolated. It is Hamas’ turn to demonstrate flexibility and responsibility. Israel too can play an important role and profit from Hamas emerging as the leading power in the Palestinian political system. Israel has the ability to accelerate the Hamas movement towards moderation by adopting reciprocal and not unilateral steps. Israel by its actions can either drive Hamas deeper into the jungle or thus explode the fragile ceasefire or Israel and Hamas together can exploit the new situation to lead toward and political settlement.

 

Hamas, Israel and the International Community, can together play a constructive role first to stabilize the region, start the road to a political settlement or God forbid neglect the region allow the situation to deteriorate and thus intensify the conflict. The region and the world waited for the results of the Palestinian elections and the emergence of new Palestinian leaders, again the region is also waiting on March 28 for the Israeli Knesset elections and the emergence of new Israeli leader post the Sharon era.

 

Grounds for Hope and Fear Abound

 

Those who shortly will be in power in Israel and Palestine must understand the peoples of the region are fed up with the violence and instability and are looking forward for change but for the better, this should by the guideline and the goal for the new leaders.

 

A Personal Note

 

I ran as an independent for the seat in the PLC from the Jerusalem district, and I lost. I thank those who supported me, I congratulate those who have won and I will continue to work from outside the PLC for the two-state solution.