Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Sunday, December 22, 2002  

According to a report in tomorrow's UK Guardian, Yasser Arafat has decided to indefinitely postpone elections of a president and legislature in Palestine. The reason, he says, is because Israeli occupation of of the West Bank makes a free ballot impossible:

"First, Mr Arafat says, the tanks must go, and then comes the vote.

"The Israelis say the opposite. Ariel Sharon argues that without the election of a new Palestinian leadership "the terror" will not stop, and so the troops must stay.

"In the event, it is highly unlikely that Palestinian voters would dump Mr Arafat in favour of another leader, not least because it would be seen as bowing to Israeli pressure.

"But the Palestinian leadership has, over recent weeks and months, undergone a creeping but fundamental shift in thinking.

"A growing number of senior Palestinian officials are criticising Mr Arafat's handling of the past two years of intifada, and specifically the brutal and traumatic wave of suicide bombings. Some blame Mr Arafat directly, some do not. But his deputy, Abu Mazen, recently said that attacks on Israeli civilians had brought only ruin and destruction to the Palestinian people."

Israeli occupation of the West Bank is certainly not the most desired of situations, for both parties. But Arafat, I believe, is making a mistake in postponing elections because of it. He may not be able, as he says, to do anything about the suicide bombers. But the ability to hold free, fair and transparent elections is in his hands entirely, and would greatly increase his standing, if not with Israel or the US then certainly with Europe, whose support he should be looking to. It may be that criticism within the Palestinian Authority and among sections of the Palestinian population against his leadership and the corruption in the PA is the real reason he does not wish to hold elections, as well as the fear of Israeli support for opposition parties, like the Palestinian National Initiative. These fears are without basis. Not only are the indications that he will be returned as the Palestinian Leader, but to unseat him would take massive collusion on the part of Israel with parties like the PNI, which would not only be impossible to hide, but also impossible to bring about. And even if he is returned to power and Israel refuses to acknowledge him, it would not have been his fault: the people would have spoken, again, as long as the elections are free and fair (perhaps Jimmy Carter and his monitors can be called in).

Yasser Arafat has nothing to lose and everything to gain by holding these elections as soon as possible. The ball, on this issue at least, is squarely in his court.

posted by Jonathan | 8:45 PM 0 comments


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