It is highly likely that, instead of looking forward to going to the polls on May 22 as scheduled, Palestinians were on a countdown until the day the Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas declared the cancellation of elections. Yet, while much fanfare over the Palestinian legislative elections was put forth by the PA – creating a temporary groundwork for democratic propaganda, the intent to cancel was clear all along. Israel would not allow elections to be held in occupied East Jerusalem, and the PA – led by the Fatah party – latched onto the violation to remain in power.
Abbas declared in late April that the elections would be postponed “until the participation of our people in Jerusalem is guaranteed.” Guaranteed by Israel, that is. The likelihood of Fatah’s fall from power is certainly not an incentive for Israel to allow Palestinians to vote and exercise their right to a democratic electoral process, which makes Abbas’ statement nothing other than an excuse for political cowardice.
Contenders such as Marwan Barghouti and Nasser Al-Qudwa would have provided a serious challenge for the PA, not to mention Hamas, which won the legislative elections in 2006 and is still viewed as a formidable alternative to the PA. In matters of elections, Hamas has managed to articulate the importance of not fomenting further division among Palestinians. “In Hamas, we don’t want to turn the situation into an internal Palestinian struggle. We want the language of dialogue, communication and dialogue to prevail among all Palestinians,” the movement’s Chief, Ismail Haniyeh, stated.
Had the elections taken place and Hamas won, accountability for its campaign rhetoric would have commenced. But the US does not relish the prospect of dealing with Hamas as a possible new government, regardless of whether or not it adopts a democratic approach to politics. As liberal commentator Peter Beinart scathingly wrote in a recent column discussing the illogical excuses given by the US in its non-interference positioning designated to support Abbas’ expired tenure: “we like it that way.” This is a prominent liberal Zionist talking – an indication of how ludicrous the excuses to prevent Palestinian elections are becoming, even among those who would not support decolonization as a solution.
The sharp turn of events following the cancellation of the Palestinian elections highlight the ineffectiveness of having an expired, internationally-funded echelon of elites in power.
The sharp turn of events following the cancellation of the Palestinian elections highlight the ineffectiveness of having an expired, internationally-funded echelon of elites in power. Israel’s violence in Jerusalem and Gaza has only been rhetorically opposed by Abbas’ plea for international intervention, even as the international community once again fixates on Hamas rockets rather than the illegal forced evictions of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, or the Israeli aerial bombardment of Gaza which so far emulates the destruction of 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
In light of the current Israeli violations and the cancellation of the Palestinian elections, one thing can be said about Abbas and the PA: no violation is worth risking their illusion of power over. Which faction, regardless of how they would have performed if elected, would agree to Abbas’ alternative to the elections – the formation of a unity government – when the PA has proven repetitively that it stands for, not against, the colonization of what remains of Palestine?
Hamas rejected the unity government proposal, which would have forced it to renege on its core principles. Meanwhile, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s (DFLP) statement succinctly summed up Abbas’ political ploy. “Abbas took the decision to postpone the elections without taking into account its repercussions. The Palestinian situation cannot keep going like that with presidential decisions and decrees issued without consultations with the rest of the factions,” DFLP member Tala Abu Zarifa declared.
If Abbas held the slightest hope of political unity – and that would be giving the PA more credit than it deserves given its penchant for working against Palestinian demands – it is mistaken. Certainly not after the spectacle the PA made of itself throughout the Trump administration’s promotion of the “Deal of the Century” and later, upon the announcement of the Abraham Accords, both of which sold Palestinian rights to normalization, with the PA a passive spectator.
The PA preserves the status quo for Israel and the international community.
The PA preserves the status quo for Israel and the international community, which in turn reaps benefits for the colonial project. In return, Abbas gets to preside over one of the biggest gimmicks in Palestinian history – the illusion of state-building funded by international donors to gloss over the realities of Israeli settlement expansion and de-facto annexation.
With state-building comes democracy. In the Palestinian context, this too is an illusion, albeit against the will of the Palestinian people. When Abbas announced the elections, it soon became clear that the pledge was nothing other than a bid to create a lull in Palestinian politics, bringing external actors on board to push Israel to allow Palestinian democracy a chance, all the while knowing that the scenario was a mere repetition of previous debacles. Abbas had used the same pretext of Jerusalem to cancel the elections in 2019.
Yet here again, the PA’s hypocrisy is astounding. The rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem were relegated solely to the election issue – a position which Palestinians rallied against, recognizing that the PA was exploiting an Israeli violation of fundamental rights to its benefit – that of remaining in power.
The elections would have ended Abbas’ monopoly over Palestinian politics – a move which the international community would not relish. When Hamas won the 2006 elections, the international community swiftly moved to impose conditions which the resistance movement would have had to agree to in return for diplomatic recognition. The refusal to deal with Hamas led to the international community funding and dealing with the PA as legitimate representation of the Palestinian people, in contradiction of the “democratic process” it is so fond of pontificating about.
The political divide between Palestinian political factions works in Israel’s favor, and the PA is the prime instigator of such exploitation.
In light of the recent history of obstructing democratic process for Palestinians, the cycle of promising and reneging upon elections had several precedents dealing with profitable stalemates for Israel, in which the PA is an accomplice. The political divide between Palestinian political factions works in Israel’s favor, and the PA is the prime instigator of such exploitation. If Abbas were serious about democracy, would he have not heeded the Palestinian people’s demand that elections still be held despite the Israeli violations regarding the right to vote in Jerusalem?
If by popular demand, Palestinians were willing to proceed with elections, as did other Palestinian factions, it is clear that the PA is a main obstacle to Palestinian democracy. Only the game played this time is more blatantly hypocritical. The constant news propaganda, which international actors have participated in, is a clear representation of how Palestinians have been manipulated by their leadership and the international community. Yet Palestinians are no longer fooled by Abbas’ purported concern over Jerusalem and voting rights – Jerusalem was betrayed earlier as revealed in the Palestine Papers, brought to light by Al Jazeera in 2011.
Calling on Israel to concede on Jerusalem for the elections was a lost cause from the start. To save the PA from a possible electoral defeat, and a humiliating one at that, the international community bequeathed two results to the Palestinian people which will not be extinguished so quickly. One is the re-emergence of Hamas in terms of politics and resistance. The other, more important issue is the unity of the Palestinian people. Through divisive tactics, the PA sought a continuation of political disunity. It had not bargained upon the unity of the Palestinian people across all of colonized Palestine.