Intifada of the elections:
reflections on the elections
in Palestine and on the tasks ahead
Johansen, TFF Board Member
Jerusalem and Coventry - February
in Palestine - a major achievement
All Palestinians and other friends
of Palestine should be congratulated with the elections!
Despite occupation, travel restrictions, checkpoints and
a number of other obstacles from the Israeli side, the
PA, the political parties and the constituency managed to
hold the campaigns, the actual voting, the counting of
votes and the presenting of the results at a remarkably
No state in the region has ever
been able to deliver such a standard under such
conditions! The formal parliamentary democracy is now
established in Palestine. For it to become a real and
functional democracy there is still a way to go, but this
a very important step in the right direction.
In this perspective, let us not
forget that only a few, if any, countries that brag about
being democracies are doing very well on the deeper,
substantial criteria for a real and functional democracy.
Western politicians rather seem to believe that Palestine
will be democratic only if the new leadership is
did people voted for Hamas?
For a few days Palestinians tasted
freedom and democracy. Many liked it. It was a form of
People's Power never previously experienced in Palestine.
I have difficulties in imagining that the people would
ever accept to go back to the old system. Worries about
Hamas introducing a theocracy, such as the ones we see in
Iran and the Vatican, is not very probable. A majority of
those who voted for a change will never accept that.
But a development in the direction
of fundamentalism will grow the more rest of the world
isolates the new government and parliament. For those who
want the new power-holders to adopt democracy and respect
for human rights there is an urgent need to open doors
and start dialogues.
The recent election should be
analysed in the light of the two previous elections, the
municipality and the presidential ones, and it is
necessary to take into consideration the recent
developments in Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Iraq too.
Many voices have already been
trying to explain why Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya
[Hamas] did so well. Here follows the
explanations I tend to agree with and then I add some
arguments of my own:
Disappointment with Fatah
I agree that many voted for Hamas
to punish Fatah for the corruption, for not being able to
deliver what they have promised, and just because they
wanted to try something else after so many years that
presented them with more and more problems. The
institutionalised corruption within the PA caused very
serious problems for many, many Palestinians. Mahmoud
Abbas has so far not managed to reduce the level of
provides food, education and organisation
We should not underestimate that
many voted for Hamas because their huge and important
work on welfare, schools, distribution of food, etc. They
have a record to be proud of in these areas. The PA was
for many the symbol of unemployment, poverty and even
hunger. Hamas have for a long time now been much better
on all sorts of grassroots activities within labour
unions, student organisations and other youth
organisations. They are overall better on mobilising and
organising ordinary people than Fatah, which has been
using too much of their resources and skills on
monopolising most political institutions.
plays a less important role than some may
The religious factor was important
for many. But far from every voter used her og his ballot
for religious reasons. It is true that people tend to
practise their religion in times of crises and war. When
everything is chaotic it is good to have a fixed point in
life. For many, the mosques, the imams and the Koran have
served as such safe points. Hamas announces publicly that
it is an Islamic movement that follows the Sharia laws
and - for good reasons - represent these values of many
But many of those who voted for
Hamas this time did not do so for religious
reasons. It seems probable that in addition to people's
wish to "punish" Fatah many just wanted a change and
probably many thought that Hamas was a better choice for
purely pragmatic reasons. It is important to separate the
rhetoric from the practice when we judge Hamas.
Furthermore, we should bear in mind
that their representatives, just like any other
politicians, use different languages and arguments
depending on who their audiences are. The main message in
the election campaign was much more liberal than the most
radical quotations Western media are digging up these
What a Hamas leader is saying to
radical, devoted followers will of course be different
from what their newly appointed PR consultant, Mr Aqtash
from Birzeit University, will tell Western media. What
their practical politics will be is probably none of
claimed success in fighting Israel
Some voted for Hamas because Hamas
has symbolised the resistance against the occupation. In
contrast, Fatah has for many symbolised just an endless
number of compromises - compromises in which Palestinians
have been the loosing part time and again.
Every time Fatah engaged in peace
negotiations it was betrayed by Israel, USA, Norway, etc.
The most concrete results for ordinary citizens are the
Wall, ever-present checkpoints, more settlements and more
poverty. The results for Fatah have been bad consequences
for their constituency. Hamas was outside these processes
and consequently was not blamed for the results.
Many gave Hamas credit for the
withdrawal from Gaza. But I believe that is a wrong
assumption, though many wanted to believe in that. If
with some degree of probability, you can define an event
as a victory, you are more likely to do so than
critically analysing the fact and come up with a
The growing armed resistance
against the US-led occupation in Iraq has encouraged many
to believe in the power of the Kalashnikov, the suicide
bombs, and the road-side bombs. This is just as important
and a very complex process which deserves serious
analysis and discussion.
The main problem is that so
many believe that there is a choice of either
armed resistance or passivity. The 100 other means
to influence the situation are not on the table in most
of the restaurants in Ramallah or the cafeterias in
Here lies an enormous task for
those with knowledge and ideas about how to promote a
sustainable peace with other means, i.e. with intense
activity and nonviolence combined.
after the death of Arafat
Undoubtedly, it is also important
to recognise the effect of President Arafat's death has
had on Fatah. Without his distinct leadership, a number
of suppressed old internal conflicts quickly surfaced.
All of them destroyed the former unity and some of them
were devastating in their consequences for Fatah's
election result. From the time when Mahmoud Abbas became
prime minister, the old guard of Fatah people stood
against firmly him and behind Arafat in several
conflicts. So the election result can also be seen in the
light of simple revenge.
Then there is another factor which
I believe has been underestimated in the comments here
and there: that Fatah and consequently PLO and the PA
have been dominated for too long time by what is
sometimes called the "Tunis-generation". The bright,
young, and intelligent Palestinian men and women with a
burning eagerness to "serve their country" did not have
access to political positions when Arafat was the leader,
and not enough changed in this respect during the first
year with Mahmoud Abbas. Their qualifications were not
used by the PA.
This is a very delicate problem.
How can you remove elderly men from their high positions
without offending them? The cultural context complicates
such a move even more. There are also financial hurdles
in this problem, with some relevance for the earlier
level of corruption. The young generation could, if they
had been given positions in PA, been very useful in
changing the internal culture and adapt to the new times
and conditions of today.
The old PLO traditions pertaining
to how you would run an organisation dated back to - and
made sense - the days when it was mainly an armed
guerrilla movement. But it doesn't fit today's situation
and tomorrow's challenges. The task is not to fight the
enemy with military means, but to win open and fair
elections with a constituency consisting of a lot of
young, poor, disillusioned people and large groups of
people who are third generation refugees living in camps.
criticism, internal support
Another factor I would like to
raise is the effect of International actors and media
labelling Hamas a terrorist organisation. Both the EU and
the U.S. - but not UN - have them on their
respective lists of outcasts ("terrorists"). It is a
basic psychological fact that when "all" external actors
place guilt on an actor, that blamed actor is likely to
get support from his own people. With an extremely
one-sided rhetoric by the U.S., Israeli, and European
politicians and media regarding Hamas nobody should be
surprised by the growing support for them. The fact that
Hamas obviously was the group Israel and the U.S. feared
automatically made them heroes among many
will come out of these elections?
It's not easy to make predictions,
for sure, but let me try anyhow. With a good level of
information of the situation today, you may be able to
say something about the next five days. But beyond that,
it's little more that sheer guessing. Palestine is
absolutely no exception. The guesses can be more or less
qualified deductions, but they will still basically be a
guess. Too many factors are unknown and each and all of
the known factors change constantly.
Having said that, let me anyhow
present some of my views on the options, possibilities
and challenges ahead for those who are engaged in the
future of the Palestinian people.
on/of Israeli elections
The coming elections in Israel will
of course have an immense impact on the possibility of
negotiating with the new PA. But this is not necessarily
a question of left or right on the political scale. We
have seen many examples that conservative politicians
have had more room for maneuvering than the more leftist
ones. I am not saying that I would like to see a hawk as
the next prime minister in Israel! I am just making the
point that politics is much more complicated than the
naive view that everything can be placed on a
two-dimensional line from Left to Right.
relationships with the EU, the U.S. and
In the perspective of the immediate
future, I am worried about the financial situation for
the new Parliament. Without money to pay salaries next
Friday the reaction from administrative personnel, police
forces, security personnel and others will come very
soon. We are talking about around USD 100 million a month
just for the salaries.
Since the occupation makes almost
every kind of business activity impossible, the only way
this money can be delivered is by donations from abroad.
The U.S. and the EU have been the main contributors so
far. It would be extremely foolish and counterproductive
of them to stop the flow of money just because the fair
elections turned out like they did.
The Arab League has joined those
voices that want Hamas to disarm and accept Israel before
any transfer of money can be done. I believe such
declarations will come, but it cannot be expected over
night. It cannot be expected that such a shift in policy
can be the first thing the new Parliament and Government
will do. What sort of signal would that be to their
constituencies? We have already seen several
indications and moves from Hamas over the last year that
they are moving in the right direction on these issues.
Give them some more time and they will deliver. If the
U.S. and the EU stop giving money to the PA, I am sure
Iran will step in - thus complicating things
are badly needed
food and travel and...
Hamas will need to deliver positive
results to ordinary people pretty soon. A majority of
those who voted for them expect results within months.
This will be Hamas' main challenge. All oppositional
movements that have gained power have faced the
difficulty of delivering a real change in a relatively
short time perspective.
This means that the average
Palestinian must rather soon get a job, see more food on
the table, experience less travel restrictions and more
safety (as opposed to security) and that he and she will
soon enjoy at least some improvements in the
infrastructure (roads, electricity, sewage systems, water
Next we will see whether the new
government will be able to control the police and
security forces. Will the forces obey the new Parliament?
What if they don't? What will be the relationship between
these forces and the armed groups within Hamas? Formally
of course, it is President Mahmoud Abbas who is the
Supreme Commander of the Security Forces. But with only a
minority behind him in the Parliament, it could well
become quite difficult for him to exercise de facto
control over these forces. His earlier proposal to share
this function as chief of the forces with a deputy
president may soon be put on the agenda again.
The conflicts around the security
forces serve as the possible "gun powder barrel" for a
worst- case scenario of civil war in Palestine. And that
is a situation the hawks in Israel would love to see. I
would be surprised if they are not already doing their
best to bring about such a situation. Mossad, Shin Bet
and their collaborators are probably working hard to
create splits at this very moment. What can be done to
prevent them from succeeding in that? (As I am writing
these lines I hear on the radio that Fatah people have
stormed the Parliament in Gaza and Ramallah and my heart
Another serious problem is the lack
of people within Hamas who have the needed skills to
manage a country. There are thousands of positions to
fill in ministries, agencies, security forces and so on.
Very few have acquired the education and the experience
needed in such positions. This is not to say that they
will not be able to find ministers, but it will take
quite some time for them be competent and feel
comfortable in those positions throughout the
The jump from being hunted as
"terrorists" by IDF, the Israeli Defence Forces, to be
acting as responsible ministers is a pretty big one. For
many other positions it may turn out to be very difficult
to find competent people at all. The organisations they
are running well today cannot just be abandoned. Some of
them could turn into governmental agencies, but certainly
not all. There is also the question as to how smoothly
the takeover from the old Fatah-led organisations will
take place. It'll be easy for neither the outgoing nor
Many Fatah activists obviously want
to make the takeover as difficult as possible for Hamas.
They are doing their best to create problems for the
incoming representatives. Some even think they can create
enough chaos to have new elections relatively soon and
then come back in power with "clean" hands. I doubt if
this option is wise and doable. At the moment, there is a
strong need for conflict-resolution between Hamas and
Fatah. But I cannot see any obvious mediator who commands
enough respect in both camps.
Whatever Hamas wants to achieve
over the next four years of power in Palestine, the
international actors manipulating the processes in the
region are much more influential than Hamas will ever be.
It is not only up to Hamas to decide what will happen
with the Palestinian people in the time to come. If they
are able to fulfil some of the welfare they have promised
it will be good for the population. If they, due to
incompetence, external interference or domestic conflicts
cannot deliver, they will be removed in the 2010
can we do?
For the moment I would argue for
maximum level of contacts with all parts of Hamas.
Isolation is just as unhealthy for political movements as
it is for prisoners! Meet with them, congratulate,
discuss, listen, learn and present your views in open and
Since most states seem to avoid
contacts with Hamas, these tasks will need to be the
responsibility of civil society actors. There is nobody
else to do the job. After some months we will understand
if it is time to propose joint projects. Hamas is not a
unified organisation. Naturally, there is a diversity of
views on a number of questions inside Hamas. I regard it
as very important to understand and get insights into
Hamas and their different sections as soon as possible.
Let us identify which "fractions"
it makes most sense to contact and have dialogues with. I
cannot imagine that many are knocking on their doors
already, but I would like to be among the first
The fact that the U.S. and the EU
regard it illegal to seek and obtain such contacts should
not prevent or deter us. And even if we initially have to
make these contacts partly outside the public sphere I
don't want to be too secret about them. I want to be open
about these contacts, and to continue our good contacts
with Fatah and other PA people.
free articles &
TFF & the author 2006
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