Monday, October 24, 2005

DAOUD KUTTAB, THE JERUSALEM POST Oct. 24, 2005





The mood is becoming upbeat in Palestine these days. Election fever
is building up as winter approaches. Major Palestinian cities such
as Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron, Gaza, Jenin and Rafah are due to elect
mayors and city councils in December. The following month the entire Palestinian public is due to elect a new legislative council. The city elections will be the first since 1976, legislative elections the first since 1995.

All city mayors in office today are appointed rather than elected. Members of the legislature have been in office for 10 years.

While municipal elections are generating interest in the major cities, it is the legislative elections that are the focus, for two important reasons. This is the first time the Islamic groups predominantly Hamas) have agreed to participate, and these elections will also be "mixed." Palestinians will vote using two ballots. One is to select 66 members, who will be chosen based on district representation, while an equal number will be chosen based on party lists.

The elections, which will strengthen political parties and give
credence to some of the smaller parties, will be closely watched
throughout the Arab world.

The use of proportional representation will boost small parties
that might not be able to get a candidate chosen in a particular
district but might capture enough votes Palestine-wide to allow them to
muster a member or two from their party.

THE PIONEERING nature of the elections, unfortunately, is not what
has grabbed the headlines. Instead, the focus is on Hamas - as well
as Islamic Jihad - which plan to participate in the elections.
Israel says it will not facilitate elections if armed militias or parties openly dedicated to its destruction compete.

Palestinian officials, as well as the public at large, completely
support the right of Hamas to participate in the elections. For
years Palestinians have been trying to convince Hamas and Islamic Jihad
to try and channel their energies through the ballot box and not
through the bullet. In fact this is the exact terminology Shimon Peres has used in the past trying to encourage political empowerment of
Palestinian militants.

Hamas, for its part, has repeatedly refused to participate in the
political process, stressing that it legitimizes the Oslo Accords,
which it opposes. But after five years of an intifada which has
shown the Islamic militants the limits of military action, moderate
elements in Hamas finally prevailed and announced the group's
agreement to participate in the upcoming legislative elections.

Hamas participation was part of an agreement reached in Cairo with
the active involvement of Egyptian intelligence. Mahmoud Abbas promised that elections would take place in the summer of 2005, and
in return the Islamic groups agreed to a tahdiya or unilateral period
of quiet.

But for a variety of reasons, among them that the election law was
not agreed upon, the elections were postponed until January 2006.
Islamic groups initially protested this postponement but finally
acceded to it and began preparing for the balloting.

Their success in an earlier set of municipal elections seems to
have been a tactical mistake in the sense that it raised the worry level in Israel and the United States. Most observers feel that Hamas and other Islamic candidates are unlikely to garner more than 30-35% of
the vote.

Yet Israel is adamant that they don't participate. This plus the
fact that Israel has recently begun rounding up Hamas political leaders (including such moderates as Hassan Yousef, who has publicly accepted the two-state solution along the 1967 lines) threatens to raise the popularity of the Islamic groups, thus producing the opposite effect to the one desired by those worried about their possible success.

ISLAMIC LEADERS have repeatedly said that they are not seeking a
political coup in the elections, only that they are serious about
their interest in being part of the Palestinian decision-making
process.

If the US and Israel do not want Hamas and Islamic Jihad to participate in the military struggle or in the political arena, what is it they want them to do? This issue becomes even more sensitive in the context of the US efforts to spread democracy in the greater Middle East, and Washington's insistence that their democratic calls don't exclude Muslim parties.

Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians generally will be closely watching how the US deals with this issue. If it fails this test, America's ideas will be unlikely to have any chance in any other Arab or Muslim areas.

Send us your comments >>

Roberta Seid, Santa Monica, California, USA: If Hamas members want
to run in the Palestinian elections, let them form a political party
that does not have a covenant calling for the obliteration of Israel, that does not say negotiations are impermissible and jihad is the only path, and that does not say that all of Israel is Islamic waqf land. It also should not call for war instead of peace and should not repeat, almost verbatim, lies based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Currently, that is what Hamas stands for. It is a war party that programmatically calls for racism, terrorism and intolerance.
It is not a political party.

If Hamas, with its programmatic violence, hate and racism, can be
considered a legitimate political party, then Israel will have to
rethink its policy banning Kach and prohibiting it from running in
elections.

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