Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Thursday, January 02, 2003  

Sometime ago I wrote a post, seemingly a propos of nothing, on the Palestine issue. Specifically, I wrote on the issue of elections in Palestine, and opined that Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Authority and de facto leader of Palestine, should hold elections for a new Palestinian leadership.

I say the post seemed a propos of nothing, as I had not previously declared my stance on the Middle East issue. For the record, I believe in the right of both the Israeli state and a Palestinian state to exist, and I believe both can and will co-exist peacefully side-by-side.

Both sides have to make their respective contributions to this process. Israel must remove its settlers and the forces that protect them from Palestinian territory. Needless to say, no new settlements must be built.

As for the Palestinians, they must organise themselves properly and effectively internally to provide a legitimate, unified front with which to run their internal affairs and ultimately engage in negotiations for their statehood.

The problem of course is that neither side wants to make the first move. Israel says the bombings must end first, the Palestinians say the Israeli army must withdraw from their territories first. And the violence continues, and civilians on both sides continue to die.

In the midst of all of this is the call for Palestinian elections. In my previous post, speaking of Arafat I said, “The ability to hold free, fair and transparent elections is in his hands entirely.” My friend Bina, writing from Pakistan disagrees strongly with this. She wonders about the logistics of holding elections, “When people are under heavy curfew, shot at when they emerge from their houses, and held up at checkpoints for hours to travel three miles…being under siege is no atmosphere in which to hold ‘free and fair’ elections…and don't forget that the Israeli authorities have practically blown up out of existence just about every institution and edifice that belongs to the Palestinian Authority...where would they put the ballot boxes, on the streets?

“The concept of elections under the circumstances that Israel has put the Palestinians in is just illogical. Logistically speaking, (to hold an election) takes massive communication, the ability to mobilize people, efficient organization, distribution of ballots, proper policing to ensure no rigging, safety of poll station workers, safety of voters, etc. - do you think any of those is possible under the current set of situations?

“Israel has disrupted every means and method of any sort of coordination within the Palestinian Authority - how do you propose they even set it up, let alone administer it, and how do you think they are going to get any sort of legitimacy for the result? They (the Israelis) have held his headquarters under siege several times in the last six months, cut off his water, food and electricity - how do you propose Arafat will have any sort of authority or power to administer an election that scale? Elections are challenging enough in the smoothest of countries and democracies - can you imagine what it might even be close to for a place like the West Bank?

“It took massive amounts of manpower and money to hold elections here - last year - I don't think the PA has any of that; Israel has not allowed it to remain powerful in any real sense of the word, by knocking out its strategic leadership - so how can you put the onus on their heads?”

I agree with Bina on many of her arguments. Holding an election is a huge logistic task. It takes massive amounts of resources of all kinds. And considering the horrible conditions in the West Band and Gaza – yes, directly related to the Occupation – it seems absurd to be holding elections. But what is the alternative? Writing in the Egyptian paper AL-Ahram (a password protected site; articles can be accessed through the Edward Said Archive) in mid-2002 Edward Said declared:

“I keep saying that the effort must come from us, by us, for us. I'm at least trying to suggest a different avenue of approach. Who else but the Palestinian people can construct the legitimacy they need to rule themselves and fight the occupation with weapons that don't kill innocents and lose us more support than ever before? A just cause can easily be subverted by evil or inadequate or corrupt means. The sooner this is realised the better the chance we have to lead ourselves out of the present impasse.”

I would like to know what, if not elections, Said means by “a different avenue of approach”. At any rate, writing last week (again in Al-Ahram) he denounced the call for elections, at least elections that will only see Arafat returned to power:

“What could be more preposterous than the call for Palestinian elections, which Mr Arafat of all people, imprisoned in an Israeli vice, announces, retracts, postpones, and re-announces. Everyone speaks of reform except the very people whose future depends on it, i.e. the citizens of Palestine, who have endured and sacrificed so much even as their impoverishment and misery increases. Isn't it ironic, not to say grotesque, that in the name of that long-suffering people schemes of rule are being hatched everywhere, except by that people itself? Surely the Swedes, the Spanish, the British, the Americans and even the Israelis know that the symbolic key to the future of the Middle East is Palestine, and that is why they do everything within their power to make sure that the Palestinian people are kept as far away from decisions about the future as possible. And this during a heated campaign for war against Iraq, during which numerous Americans, Europeans and Israelis have openly stated that this is the time to re-draw the map of the Middle East and bring in ‘democracy’.

“Real change can only come about when people actively will that change, make it possible themselves. In Palestine it should be possible to have elections now, but not elections to re-install Arafat's ragged crew, but rather to choose delegates for a constitutional and truly representative assembly. It is a lamentable reality that during his 10 years of misrule Arafat actively prevented the creation of a constitution despite all his ridiculous gibberish about ‘Palestinian democracy’. His legacy is neither a constitution nor even a basic law, but only a decrepit mafia.”

So perhaps Bina is right, and elections should not be held. But not because Israel has made them impossible, but because they would only see the present corrupt, inept regime maintaining hegemony. The Palestinian people have the power, and despite Arafat, despite Sharon, their voices will be heard. The only questions is when.

posted by Jonathan | 12:03 AM 0 comments


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