Photo Credit: Flash 90
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in a meeting with journalists in Ramallah, July 03, 2019.

{Reposted from the Gatestone Institute website}

The last Palestinian parliamentary election, held on January 25, 2006, resulted in a victory for Hamas, the Islamist movement controlling the Gaza Strip. The next parliamentary election is scheduled to take place on May 15, 2021, although the parliament, known as the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) was elected for a four-year term.

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The Hamas victory in 2006 triggered a bitter dispute with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, effectively paralyzing the PLC and creating two separate mini-states for the Palestinians — one in the West Bank and another in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas won the 2006 vote mainly because its candidates ran as part of a list named Change and Reform Bloc.

The slogan of the list was: “Islam is the solution; one hand builds, the other resists.” The Hamas list, in its election program, promised to combat all forms of corruption and “make Islamic law [sharia] the main source of legislation in Palestine.” The Hamas list, in addition, pledged to “use all methods, including armed resistance” against Israel.

Because of these promises, Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats of the PLC. Its rivals in Fatah received 45 seats.

The result of the 2006 election showed that a majority of Palestinians fully supported Hamas’s call for ending corruption in the Palestinian Authority, imposing Islamic law and, most importantly, continuing the armed struggle against Israel.

Hamas justified its decision to participate in that election by arguing that it was in the context of the Islamist group’s “comprehensive program to liberate Palestine.”

The winning message Hamas sent to Palestinians back then was: Our participation in the election does not mean that we recognize the Oslo Accords and Israel’s right to exist. This is just one step toward achieving our goal of liberating all of Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. It boycotted the first parliamentary election in 1996 on the pretext that the vote was being held under the umbrella of the Oslo Accords, signed three years earlier between the PLO and Israel.

Hamas remains opposed to the Oslo Accords because it does not believe in any peace process with Israel. After all, how can Hamas accept any peace process when its charter openly calls for the annihilation of Israel?

The political program of Fatah also promised to “completely end all forms of corruption and abuse of power.” Fatah, however, did not promise to launch an “armed resistance” against Israel or impose Islamic law “as a main source of legislation in Palestine.”

Palestinians did not buy Fatah’s talk about ending corruption: they saw how Fatah’s leaders had enriched themselves after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars that were lavished on them without a shred of accountability by the US, the European Union and other Western donors.

Although Fatah used harsh anti-Israel rhetoric in its election program, many Palestinians nevertheless preferred Hamas. The reason that Fatah, unlike Hamas, did not talk about the “liberation of all of Palestine” or promise to launch an armed struggle against Israel is because its leaders were afraid that the US and EU would halt financial aid to the Palestinians.

All Fatah said back then was that the Palestinians were “entitled to resist the occupation in accordance with international conventions.”

Again, vague talk about anti-Israel “resistance” was not sufficient to convince a majority of Palestinians to vote for Fatah. Had Fatah specifically mentioned “armed resistance” in its election program, it would have succeeded in attracting the support of more voters.

Another list that contested the 2006 election was named Third Way. The list was headed by Salam Fayyad, who has a PhD in economics from the University of Texas at Austin. Fayyad’s list won only 2.41% of the vote in the 2006 PLC election. Fayyad went on to serve as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority from 2007 to 2013.

Why did the Third Way yield little success? Unlike most of the candidates on the Fatah and Hamas lists, Fayyad was not involved in anti-Israel terror activities; mainly, he never spent a day in an Israeli prison. As far as many Palestinians are concerned, it is more important if one graduates from an Israeli prison than from the University of Texas at Austin.

Fayyad’s election program focused on the need to “end security anarchy and the chaos of weapons, build strong and professional security forces and implement a reform plan” in PA institutions.

Fayyad, in other words, promised to dismantle the armed gangs and militias roaming the Palestinian streets and make sure that the Palestinian security forces operate in accordance with the law. Evidently, these promises did not appeal to the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians.

Palestinians who did not vote for Fayyad’s Third Way list were actually saying that they oppose the disarmament of the armed groups of Fatah and Hamas.

If Fayyad chooses to run in the May 22 parliamentary election with the same message, it is unlikely that he will receive many more votes than he got in 2006. Indeed, it is entirely possible that he will receive fewer votes than he did then. Any Palestinian, like Fayyad, who runs in the election on a platform that talks about peace and coexistence with Israel will lose.

How can any candidate who runs on a ticket that promotes normalization and peace with Israel win at a time when Palestinians are being radicalized against Israel (by their leaders) on a daily basis? How can any candidate who did not spend time in Israeli prison win at a time when Palestinian security prisoners are being glorified by Palestinian leaders as “heroes“?

Can any candidate stand in the center of Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians, and talk about promoting peace and normalization with Israel? Any candidate who did so would be lucky if he or she was not denounced as a traitor – or worse.

The only way to climb out of this cesspool is through education. Real education starts at home, not necessarily in the classroom. Real education starts with what parents communicate to their children. Real education starts with what a child sees and hears in his or her home environment. Real education starts with what leaders and the media tell the children.

The daily anti-Israel incitement in the media, mosques and rhetoric of Palestinian leaders explains why there is no room for people like Fayyad in the Palestinian political discourse.

Palestinian leaders need to tell their people that Israel has the right to exist. They need to tell their people that peace and normalization is good not only for Israel, but also for the Palestinians. They need to tell their people that cooperation with Israel is better than boycotts.

Calling Israel the “Zionist Entity” or the “State of Occupation” serves only to further delegitimize Israel and demonize Jews.

Calling for all forms of resistance against Israel makes it impossible for advocates of peace and non-violence to win a Palestinian election. Proclamations by Fatah and Hamas that call for prosecuting Israelis for “war crimes” mean that most Palestinians will vote for any list that promises war, not peace, with Israel. The only candidates who are likely to win an election are those who incite violence against Israel.

Under the current circumstances, in which anti-Israel sentiments are at an extreme high, one wonders whether it is a good idea to proceed with the plan to hold new elections. They are certain only to strengthen the radical camp among Palestinians even further.

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Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim, is a veteran award-winning journalist who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades.