Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Palestinian Elections Tomorrow

What a week for elections. Yesterday, we saw Canada vote out the Liberals in favor of a Conservative minority government. Now, tomorrow, the Palestinians go to the polls for their parliamentary elections.

The Palestinians election bears one key resemblance to the Canadian election: the ruling Fatah party has been in power for a long time, and has developed the same "l'état, c'est moi" attitude as the Canadian Liberal party: where the party members seem to feel they have each the inalienable right to govern. This type of attitude can easily lead to corruption, irresponsible decisions, and ineffective governance, and many Palestinians are fed up with it.

Of course, where the similarity ends with the Canadian election is who the main alternative to the governing party is. In Canada, that party was the Conservative party, but for the Palestinians, that other party is Hamas: a group considered a terrorist organization by many countries including the United States and Israel.

In tomorrow's election, Hamas is likely to garner a number of votes from people who are not voting so much FOR Hamas as AGAINST Fatah. In this type of "rejection voting", a strategic voter will vote for the party he/she feels is most likely to beat the one he/she wants out, and in this case, that party is Hamas.

What would happen if Hamas gains a sizeable number of seats? What would happen if Hamas ends up winning the election outright? There are many people in Israel and the US who are very concerned about this possibility.

There is another facet to this, though. If Hamas wins the election, it will bring them to the negotiating table. The Palestinian Authority under Fatah may have been willing to negotiate, but it has shown itself to be incapable of holding up its end of the deal by reining in militants. Hamas, on the other hand, speaks for many of the militants and would probably have more success in reining them in. Thus, while it would be tougher for Israel to negotiate a peace deal with Hamas than to negotiate with Fatah, at least Hamas would be more capable of holding up its end of the bargain.

The BBC's James Reynolds asked representatives of Hamas and the current Israeli government if they would be willing to negotiate with each other if Hamas wins power in this election. Dr Aziz Salem Dwaik, a Hamas candidate in Hebron answered, "this is a choice that we will take into consideration whenever we feel that the Israelis are accepting our rights and admitting that we have rights in Jerusalem, we have rights all over the area where the Israelis built settlements and built the Israeli annexation and confiscation wall."

When asked if Israel would deal with Hamas, Israeli cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit said, "if they change their agenda formally, making action, to say we are cancelling those items on the agenda that are talking about exterminating the state of Israel and joining the route of the road map to make peace with Israel, I cannot avoid the possibility of talking to them - especially if they have been elected."

While these types of statements are definitely not conciliatory, they do leave room for negotiation. One might even argue that bringing Hamas into the political fold and engaging them in negotiations with Israel might even help the peace process on the longer term. Who knows?

This week will be an interesting week indeed...