THE PALESTINIAN PROBLEM
By Micah Halpern
Wednesday December 16, 2009
No problem. It's an expression often heard in the Middle East, specifically within the Palestinian Authority. Since Arabic does not have a "p" sound, the words come out sounding more like "no broblem." To the untrained Western ear this response to a vast array of questions is amusing. Trained Western ears, however, know that whenever those words are uttered it signifies not just a problem, but a very big problem.
The Palestinian Authority has a broblem, a big broblem.
The most pressing of the myriad political issues confronting the PA right now is the looming election. In January, just a few short weeks away, the term will end for both the Palestinian president and the Palestinian Parliament. The Palestinian Liberation Organization's Central Council has just met to draft and lay out a direction that will begin addressing the challenge. The elections has been postponed.
President Mahmoud Abbas has declared that he will not run again, he reiterated his statement during the Council's meeting. The Council, for their part, has asked Abbas to stay on - at least until a new, new election can be called.
If Abbas stays on, the question of the Palestinian presidency will be relieved, even if only for the short term. That still leaves the question of the Parliament. Hamas now controls the Palestinian Parliament and Hamas is hoping for a new election because, according to all polls, Hamas will rout out Fatah for both Parliament and the presidency. Will the Council ask all parliament members to remain on, as well?
The Palestinian Liberation Organization's Central Council, in their infinite wisdom - or perhaps out of sheer desperation, has come up with a different solution. The PLO Central Council has suggested replacing outgoing elected members of Parliament with an appointed committee somewhat representative of the demographic reality and accountable to the president.
This is not a very good idea. The Palestinian Authority purports to be. This is a common practice in thugocracies, whether controlled by benevolent dictators or monarchs, which is what the Palestinian Authority is on the verge of becoming.
Do not get me wrong, I am not in favor of Hamas taking power and Hamas will most certainly get a landslide victory whenever the elections take place. But neither can I support a suspension of democracy because one does not like the potential results.
The political failure of Fatah and the PLO can be traced to the fact that they have never successfully shed their mantle of corruption and a reputation as politicians who hold office in order to better serve themselves, not their public. They have failed in their mandate to provide the Palestinian people with a vision for the future and have provided no alternative to poverty and despair.
Hamas will win not because the Palestinian people favor their form of government. Hamas will win because they will receive the anti-vote. They will receive the anti-Fatah vote and they will receive the anti-US/Israel vote. They will get those votes because there are still a significant number of Palestinians who respect Hamas for rejecting US and Israeli influence.
The PLO still has a chance. There is still time to sway those anti voters who are more discouraged by the status quo than they are pro-Hamas and the way to do that is through social not political means. The PLO must start providing services for the Palestinian people. But I don't think that the PLO will seize the opportunity and run with it. The PLO Council continues to make poor choices.
For example, look at the demand the PLO Central Council has laid down regarding the peace process: that the world recognize the Palestinian state within pre 1967 borders. Abbas, in his statement outlining the demand, made it perfectly clear that there can be no compromise on this issue, that the state be entirely within the 1967 border - without exception. The announcement runs contrary to years of dialogue. The dominant theme has always been that the 1967 border would be the model, and that when it became unfeasible the alternative would a land swap for mutually agreed upon land of equal size and arid-ability. That announcement dramatically set back the negotiation process and any hope for a resolution in the near future.
The Palestinian state will wait. But what about the election? Fatah and their PLO Central Council have a history of raising expectations to the point of unreasonable and creating situations where compromise is nearly impossible. They do not have a history of learning from their mistakes.
It's almost January and the parliament will soon disolve. Hamas is waiting in the wings. It's a problem, a big, big problem.
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