Feb 10 2006

Palestine after the elections

Published by at 4:03 am under Blogs,Palestinian politics

The following appeared in the Jordan Times

Daoud Kuttab

The results of the Palestinian elections continue to reverberate throughout the occupied territories, with a surprising positive reaction even from many liberal circles. With some of the information about the campaign and the mood of the Palestinians becoming known, it is clear that connecting the Palestinian Authority with corruption was clearly one of the main reasons for the success of Hamas.

Palestinian attorney general’s statement, during a press conference, that tens of corruption cases are now being investigated strengthened the feeling that over the past years, many acted without being held accountable. The talk about some $700 million that were stolen from the Palestinian people did little to help even the attorney general himself.

Even though Hamas and some of the young leaders of Fateh praised the prosecutor for investigating these cases, the question was why the issue was only made public after the elections. The official line of the investigators was that they didn’t wish to be seen as influencing the elections by coming out with this issue on the eve of elections. Many had difficulty believing this claim, feeling more that Hamas’ success on the platform of anti-corruption, reform and change is what led to this revelation. Many of those welcoming the Hamas victory were also hoping for a corruption-free governance period. In a post-election conference held in Ramallah on the media role, organised by Amin Network, it was revealed that most of the Hamas TV spots concentrated on corruption in appointments to government positions.

The politicians’ interference in appointments, often referred to as wasta, apparently has continued after the elections, with many of the losing candidates (who had to resign their government jobs before running) reappointed and, in some cases, promoted, as a last gesture of corruption before Hamas takes over the PA government. Part of the post-election discussions concentrated on the new election law, according to which 50 per cent of the candidates were elected proportionally and 50 per cent from local districts. A polling expert said that a number of Fateh individuals helped Hamas by rejecting Mahmoud Abbas’ wish to have the elections conducted entirely according to proportional representation. Had that been the case, Hamas might have got a few more seats than Fateh, but overall, Fateh and its independent and left-wing coalition partners could have easily formed a majority government.

A change in the election format would have resolved a major problem for Fateh. Having so many Fateh candidates run as independents (because they were not on the official roster) meant that thousands of votes for the district seats were wasted. In Jerusalem, Bilal Natshe, a Fateh leader, told this reporter that the lost votes amounted to 37,000, more than enough to have made Fateh candidates win. In Bethlehem, Fateh received more votes on the national lists but still lost all their seats, except those earmarked as Christian quota. Surprisingly, the tiny Palestinian Christian population doesn’t seem to be panicky because of the victory of the Islamic movement. Already in Bethlehem and Ramallah the Christian mayors of those cities were voted in with support from fellow Hamas council members. In Gaza, the single seat allotted for the Christian citizens didn’t go to the Fateh candidate but to an independent supported by Hamas.

The situation in Gaza has been reversed in many other ways. The consecutive assassination by Israel of militants from Fateh’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades predicts a reversal with Hamas whose fighters are still abiding by the unilateral tahdia (period of quiet) which all agreed to in Cairo and which officially ended at the turn of the year. With Hamas trying to show a more moderate face and with talk about Hamas respecting previous PA agreements (while saying they hope to renegotiate them), it appears that Fateh’s fighters have more reasons now to attack Israelis. Palestinians are watching the post-election discussions rather calmly. For the time being, liberal Palestinians are dealing with the victory of the conservative Hamas with little more than jokes. Soon Hamas politicians will face the stark reality that they were unaware of before.

This, along with the fear of being voted out in the next elections, is reassuring Palestinians that no matter what happens it will ultimately be for the best of the people. As many repeat, it can’t get much worse.

Copyright Jordan Times Friday-Saturday, February 10-11, 2006

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