Within the Context of Democratic Rotation of Power:Is Democracy an Option for the Future in Palestine?

In Salon Ibn Rushd by CIHRS

The Palestinian Presidential Elections, which ended on January 9th with Mohammad Abbas “Abu Mazzen” of the Fath Movement as president, received wide attention. This election was a difficult test for different Palestinian groups to prove whether they can deal with their issues democratically or not without fears of exploding violence.
This election took place with multiple parties; it was monitored by the international community as well as local censorship bureaus. The Arab reality, under which the elections were held, revealed the shameful realities of many Arab governments that gained their independence several decades ago, but are now refusing to allow their citizens to democratically choose one of several candidates. This election served as an important step which revealed the extent of development and reform within government institutions and the lack of respect given to the role of civil society. These elections also revealed the chances for agreeing upon a national agenda that responds to the hopes of the Palestinian people to live in peace and be rid of the fire of occupation.
Within this scope, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) organized a seminar under the Ibn Roshd Salon two weeks prior to the elections. it was titled, “The Palestinian Elections: Will There be a Transformation Point in the Direction of Respecting Human Rights and the Prevalence of Law?” The attendants included Dr. Samir Ghattas, Director of the Maqudas Institute for Political Studies in Gaza, Fateh Azzam, Director of the Program for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the American University in Cairo, and Dr. Mohammad El-Sayed Said, Vice-President of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Samir Ghattas started his speech by stating that democracy is not a matter of choice of free elections, but rather a choice of a way of life because to them democracy is a condition for gaining independence, development, and life. The nature of the Palestinian involvement with Israeli forces dictated that the Palestinian side be less successful, especially in terms of the democratic experiment, given the fact that 18 percent of the Israeli population is Palestinian and must serve as example for democracy to lift up the rest of the Palestinian population residing elsewhere. The 18 percent minority must be a symbol of democracy, the main condition for endurance of a united Palestinian population.
He also confirmed that the true Palestinian desire exceeds that of electing different sectors of the Palestinian people and hopes for true reform and a life of democracy.
Ghattas moved on by saying that even though the Palestinian democratic political state is generally more advanced than that of the Arab world, it is not representative of the hopes of the Palestinian people.
He also noted that pressures in the name of the occupation, which were practiced by Sharon and some other sources on the deceased Palestinian President Arafat, were part of Sharon’s policies. Consequently, these pressures became the politics of the United States and the European Union. Even though there are many other Arab countries that do not practice the simplest forms of democracy, they have not been harassed and attacked with such great pressures. This shows the hypocrisy and measure of duplicity in the international community’s view of these issues.
Ghattas clarified that most assessments of the period after Arafat are pessimistic given Arafat’s status within the Palestinian society and his overpowering control over all sectors of Palestinian life. Moreover, the Palestinian side was able to quickly surpass these assessments and the crisis of Arafat’s absence based on the following three points.
First, he referred to the use of the emotional moment of Arafat’s loss. Second, he mentioned the ability of the Fath movement to mobilize its political status to become a closely-knit group. This status of the group was able to unite its constituent groups that once separated four years back. Third, he pointed to the democratic methods of communication between different Palestinian groups and how they have distanced the Palestinians from falling into security problems or civil war.
Ghattas confirmed that the elected president must deepen the democratic process since it is a condition for gaining independence.
Ghattas added that it is not possible to duplicate Arafat’s paradigm once more. Palestinian circumstances are ready to redefine the divisions of authority in a different way never witnessed during Arafat’s presidency. Ghattas pointed to the necessity of separating the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) from the National Government authority. Also, the PLO should be headed by someone who is not part of the National Government.
Ghattas noted that factions of Palestinian leftists have collectively failed at deciding on one candidate to represent them in the elections. Despite the appearance of the Islamic oppositional groups as not taking part in the elections, they have for the first time decided to participate in the Legislative elections. These elections were conducted similarly to the Presidential elections. The number of independent candidates doubled the number of candidates from different factions. This is political proof of a near end to struggles within the political society’s model of factions that are unhealthy. There are 13 different factions that lack any political or societal basis within the Palestinian territory. In fact, they represent part of what was inherited from the periods of Beirut and the time of exile. Most of these factions were synthesized in the Bureaus of the Arab Intelligence Agencies and were mostly used up to where they had no future function. It became necessary to redesign the Palestinian political map based on a democratic civil society.

The Changes in Hammas 
Ghattas touched on the future of the Intifada under the scope of the elections. Despite its appearance in the last three years and during Arafat’s absence, the Intifada needed revision in order to restore its dignity. The only solution to erecting the face of the movement, after its collapse and its recent regressions during the last year, would be to reform it and to reach a state of armistice. Considering that the Hammas movement boycotted the elections, Ghattas expected them to engage in a show of power in the upcoming Presidential elections because the winning candidate in these elections was weak and in need of their voices.
Ghattas stated that Hammas participated in the last local elections based on the principles of the National Council as announced by the Palestinian nation, not the Oslo Accords. They did not rely on exaggerated diction to realize the crisis they would face internally, regionally, and internationally if they did not participate.
Ghattas also noted that Hammas is cautious in dealing with the upcoming elections as it dealt with the local elections to create a parallel authority on the side of the official authority seeking to realize the Moroccan paradigm of the 1990’s. Implementing this paradigm would require disassembling the current system of authority. Ghattas warned that ignoring the exceptional nature of the Palestinian situation could lead to the dissolving of the Palestinian society or its demolishment.
He added that the results of the January 7th elections allowed for the reform of internal conflicts. In the past, there were no actions taken towards internal reform because Arafat always tied this with the issue of advancements in the procedure of finding political solutions. Ghattas confirmed that there is a real chance for internal reform, rebuilding the internal structure which was destroyed by the occupation, decreasing the extent of corruption, the erection of a real civil society, separating the judiciary branch of government from the executive branch, and the respect of human rights and the Palestinian citizen.

Speculations and Results
Fateh Azzam, Director of the Program for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the American University in Cairo noted that all Arab countries do not have centers conducting public opinion polls and surveys. However, Palestine has a number of centers that continuously examine the Palestinian public opinion regarding many issues. One of the last polls taken was of the elections and was conducted by the Palestinian Institute for Research and Survey Studies and the Palestinian Institute for Public Opinion Surveys. These centers present very important results that help in the analysis of many issues and events. For example, the last polls taken confirmed that the elections are an essential necessity not only for validating the Palestinian authority, but also for opening the doors of the future, the creation of new horizons, facilitating change, and breaking the current immobility and tragic situation that the Palestinians have reached in the last years. Azzam added that the polls represented 90 percent of the voters in the last presidential elections and that 70 percent of them anticipated the victory of Abu Mazzen by 55 percent. Thus, Abu Mazzen will not have such a strong hold on the authority given the close win of only 55 percent prediction. Azzam confirmed that it is evident that the United Sates and Israel want Abu Mazzen to win because they think that, given his history, he can proceed in negotiations with Israel without the inflexibility of Arafat. According to Azzam, the position of Hammas and the Islamic Jihad is the most interesting scene in the elections. They both want the Intifada to continue and for the Palestinians to be liberated using the power of arms. In the meantime, they are ready to enter the political scene without weapons. Azzam thinks that only 17 percent of the population would vote for them if they formed a political party.
Azzam also confirmed that the majority of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza favor an armistice and a return to negotiations. According to some polls, there are many people who think that it is possible to reach a solution with Sharon because he has the power to enforce any agreement he might sign. However, Azzam sees that even though many people in the West Bank and Gaza support stopping military operations as soon as Israeli forces withdraw, there are many others who still believe in the continuation of the operations even after Israel withdraws form Gaza. Azzam mentioned that these opinion polls also reveal that more than 90 percent of the participants voted for fighting corruption and ending the chaos of weapons that is directed against the sons of the nation pointing to the fact that the situation is different when compared to the armed militarization of the Intifada. Regarding the problem of the participation of Palestinian refugees from abroad in the elections, Azzam clarified that these elections are conducted based on principles set by the Oslo Accords. As set by the Oslo Accords, participation is allowed for only those who are given identities that are authorized by the Israeli Government. Consequently, the only Palestinians who can vote are the ones who reside within the occupied territories. This code excludes the refugees from the election process.

Arabic Culture
Dr. Mohammad El-Sayed Said, Vice-President of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, conversed about the fast transformation of the Palestinian Revolutionary situation which turned into a political and military bureaucracy that incorporated all the dimensions of Arab nations including hypocrisy and the abuse of power and its uses. This revolutionary state was not able to offer a true sense of leadership in the face of one of the strongest military powers in the world. Dr. Said thinks that Abu Mazzen will represent the political bureaucratic security system and that he will be a continuation of Arafat’s period. He did this by strongly holding on to authority, which shows that the Palestinian society suffers from a lack of civilization. The rule of law is not able to control military agencies. The Palestinian civil society is the only force that can purify or sort out Palestinian institutions, which endured bureaucracy and corruption for many years in the past. Dr. Said stated that leaving bureaucracy in control of the Palestinian society will lead to the creation of another Arab nation consistent with the Arab paradigm. This new nation will contain the problems of any other Arab nation including negative practices and a lack of democracy. Dr. Said concluded by stating that the numerous ideological struggles found in the Arab political culture forcibly entered into the Arab and Palestinian culture and shattered it. According to Dr. Said, the current Palestinian Presidential Elections are the only legitimate and significant elections in Palestinian history.

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