Jan 06 2006

Thanks to Hamas

Published by at 11:51 am under Articles

Daoud Kuttab

The Palestinian legislative elections will probably take place on Jan. 25, thanks in no small a degree to Hamas.

For some time it looked like Israeli hesitation regarding the participation of East Jerusalem residents in the elections would be the kind of excuse that many in the ruling Fateh movement were looking for in order to postpone the elections. Eight members of the central committee of Fateh even signed an appeal to President Mahmoud Abbas asking for a delay.

Many expected that the radical Islamic movement would have a hard time participating in the elections without the Holy City of Jerusalem. But Hamas surprised everyone. They indicated that they wanted to participate in the elections irrespective of whether or not Jerusalemites would participate.

Responding to the calls by some of the Fateh old guards to postpone the elections, the head of the Hamas list, Ismael Haniah, held a press conference and criticised these calls.

“Instead of saying we wouldn’t hold elections if Jerusalemites will not participate, we should all be saying we want to hold elections and we also want Jerusalemites to participate,” he said.

Another Hamas speaker, Mahmoud Zahar dismissed the calls for a delay, calling them a cheap excuse not to hold the elections.

To be fair, Abbas, has been consistently refusing calls for a postponement. He had reluctantly agreed to one postponement last summer much to the anger of the participants in the Cairo agreement. Had he supported another delay, his credibility would have been further eroded and Palestine would have moved even further into lawlessness.

The US government, which had been quiet for some time in this regard, finally did speak out and supported the participation of Jerusalemites, putting an end to the discussions. Israel, which in 1996 had allowed Palestinians to participate in the first legislative elections and in 2005 in the presidential elections, had been sending trial balloons but had not officially stated a position regarding this issue. Now that the White House has spoken, Israel is unlikely to go against their American ally.

The attitude of Hamas, especially with an emotional issue like Jerusalem, is important. It indicates that the shift in policy from the military track to the political one is strategic and not tactical. There have been other hints coming out of Hamas, among them a readiness to agree on a long-term ceasefire, on the acceptance of political compromises, and even their willingness to negotiate with Israel. For their part, even the hardline Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has stated that the State of Israel might be willing to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas. This could be a major shift in Israeli attitudes, which previously strongly refused to even consider discussing a ceasefire with groups they consider terrorists.

Back on the Fateh side of things, the Jan. 25 elections will certainly usher in new blood. It is expected that less than a handful of the existing members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) will remain in parliament after the long-awaited elections. The new Fateh members will provide a new impetus to both the external talks as well as internal Palestinian issues. With the majority of the new PLC members born under occupation a new attitude will certainly prevail with regard to the possibility of a solution that most Palestinians can live with. The combination of the new locally based Fateh members and a strong showing of the opposition groups will reflect on the lives of Palestinians

In a statement from his Israeli jail cell Marwan Barghouthi gives a hint as to the priorities of the new leadership. Writing from behind bars, he apologised for the corruption that members of his party, Fateh, have committed in the past, and vowed that his era will witness a clean administration of the affairs of the Palestinian Authority.

If the current moves to the political centre and the pragmatic attitudes of all parties continue and intensify, 2006 has the potential of being a breakthrough year. This will require compromises that the parties have not shown willingness to make in the past. But political changes at the top of the political pyramids in Israel and Palestine promise to correct the idiosyncrasies that have produced policies and actions that do not reflect the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis.

With radical ideologies being discarded in return for pragmatic policies, one hopes that 2006 will not only witness a considerable reduction in violence but also see some genuine political breakthroughs that can put the region on the right track after years of turmoil and failed attempts at a historic reconciliation, peace, and tranquillity.

Friday-Saturday, January 6-7, 2006

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