Electioneering in Palestine
by Dr. Bernard Sabella
by Dr. Bernard Sabella
Electioneering in Palestine: Of People’s Concerns, Israeli Punitive Measures, Hamas and the Struggle Ahead.
Dr. Bernard Sabella, Member, Palestinian Legislative Council, Jerusalem
February 21, 2006
Driving home from Ramallah the other day, I heard on the Israeli radio a senior foreign ministry official stating that if the Palestinians elected Hamas then they deserve what is coming to them from the Israeli government in terms of punitive measures. Among such punitive measures is the freezing of revenues that are transferred monthly to the Palestinian Authority and are estimated at close to NIS 250 million (US$50m+) from VAT and customs. Everyone knows by now that I ran on the Fatah list in Jerusalem for one of the two Christian seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. My political sympathies are certainly not with Hamas. This, however, does not prevent me from praising the sense of purpose, organization and commitment that Hamas leadership and followers showed in pursuing the election campaign. Democracy is a hard pill to swallow when one loses but the principle is a challenging one. The loss of an election campaign for individuals and movements often indicates that there is something amiss; most important that the campaign did not touch base with the grassroots and their concerns and preoccupations.
During my electioneering in Palestine, I noticed that the important concerns of people are those close to home. Employment, decent housing, education, health services, roads, youth clubs, municipal services, access and freedom of movement and the overcoming of Israeli measures, from the separation wall to checkpoints and other punitive measures, are all concerns on people’s minds. People often find ways of adaptation in order to cope with situations that cause them pain and hardship. This is also true in the Palestinian case. If you test people in things dear to them, you would be surprised how the adaptive processes triggered would make them find ways to overcome the testing challenge. Perhaps one of the great achievements of our people has been withstanding the various Israeli measures that were intended to break our spirit.
This is why I am not impressed with the Israeli punitive measures against the Palestinian people and National Authority adopted on Sunday February 19th after the weekly government meeting. Not that these measures will make life any easier for us Palestinians but in the end our adaptive techniques will take over. Who loses and who wins as a result of punitive measures remains a contested matter as Israel may end up a bigger loser than Palestine and its people.
Instead of the punitive mentality we are in need of a mentality that sees the results of the Palestinian elections in a more positive perspective. Hamas, a hard line resistance movement to Israel and its occupation of Palestinian lands, has for long opted for the military option in attempting to dislodge Israel and to achieve liberation from the Israeli occupation. By joining in the election process, Hamas has confirmed that it subscribes to the democratic process. This process is an accountable process: if Hamas does not deliver what it promised our people in terms of improving living conditions, reform, transparency and some sort of stability then the people will not return it to power in the next round of elections. But in order for Hamas to deliver, it needs to adopt a practical and realistic approach to the intricate relationships of the occupier and occupied. Adopting a practical and realistic approach does not mean giving in to Israeli faits accomplis or to Israel’s punitive “dietary” restrictions on our Palestinian people. The example of our late President Arafat comes in handy here: He was a practical and realistic leader and yet the Israeli establishment did not like the fact that he would not compromise and he would not comply with Israel’s political plans. He paid a heavy price but he never gave in. It is important that pragmatism and practicality, if adopted by Hamas, should not be seen as succumbing to Israel’s plans or designs. On the contrary, a strong Palestinian government would be most successful in achieving to our people not simply better living conditions but also a better political bargaining position.
In each liberation political movement, there comes a time when transformation from martial arts to negotiation arts is a must for the achievement of the greater objective of liberation. This is also applicable to Hamas and in spite of some internal dissension that would insist that the way of the gun is the only way to deal with the occupier, I am optimistic that the coming to power of Hamas will speed up the development of its negotiation arts.
But negotiations with Israel are not going to be simple or quick. During the electioneering campaign many of my voters told me again and again that neither Israel nor its supporters in some Western capitals really want peace with the Palestinians. One young voter surprised me at one of the election rallies by stating that if the United States wanted us to have peace and to see the birth of a viable Palestinian state then this could have been accomplished in a number of months not years. I am not that sure of this young man’s argument but I can sense the frustration that motivates his reasoning.
It is clear that together with the struggle for internal reform, decent living conditions and some sort of stability, our Palestinian people is also in need of some political movement forward, in spite of the odds and of the obstacles placed by Israel and some of its allies. It is therefore necessary that in the new Palestinian Legislative Council we should all, Hamas, Fatah, Left of Center and Independents, strive to serve our people in the best ways possible and feasible. The struggle ahead is not going to be easy but we owe it to our people to try our best to work towards an end to Israeli occupation. Our vision should be one that would tie the practical concerns of our people with its political aspirations. We cannot and should not separate the two. The new PLC has the unenviable task of seeing that our people has restored trust in their governing institutions, through sensing progress in performance and delivery of needed services. At the same time we need to work through primarily political means to seek an end to Israeli occupation. Now that Hamas has become not only an integral part of the Palestinian political formal process but is at its helm, the Palestinian political option has become especially strong. We should not be tempted by ideological positions to narrow our options but we should, as a united people, go forward to seek our liberation and independence.