IF AND IF
IF AND IF: “If the local elections proceed peacefully and smoothly, and if they are held in a free and open climate and their results are respected, and if the elected councils manage to work freely –which we must seek to ensure will be the only possibility – then the elections can pave the way for general elections that will express the Palestinian people’s will and options, but only provided they are part of a package that puts an end to the inter-Palestinian split and restores national unity,” writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
If, however, the elections proceed in the shadow of this split, they would constitute a leap into the unknown: They will consolidate the split and contribute to transforming it into a permanent separation.
We should distinguish between two things: first, there are local elections. These include elections to municipal councils, unions, civil societies, universities, popular committee in the camps, and so on. Such elections should be held on a regular basis and in all areas anyway. Second: There are general presidential and legislative elections, and elections to the [PLO’s] Palestine National Council. Holding them calls for an agreement on their bases without which they would constitute a step towards consolidating the terrible inter-Palestinian split. This is what happened in the last  elections that paved the way for the  split.
A [common] political and struggle strategy must be agreed before holding general elections. Such an agreement would open the door to ending the split and regaining unity. And it must include an agreement on the national aim (or aims) to be achieved in this phase. These should include an end to the occupation, and the pursuit of the right of return and self-determination, which includes the right to establish a sovereign Palestinian state. This should also include individual and national equality for our people in the lands occupied in 1948 [Palestinian citizens of Israel].
Some may view these as interim aims, while others may view them as final aims. In this regard, we may consider the model presented by the boycott (BDS) movement that includes various societal forces and institutions. This movement’s aims were specified, while giving each party the right to uphold its own vision and point of view whether it calls for full liberation, or the establishment of a unitary state, whatever form that may take.
In fact, if we were to examine the Palestinian political map carefully, we would find that there is a possibility of reaching an agreement over a national program based on minimal aims (return, independence, and equality) between the majority of Palestinian forces, factions, and individuals. This is possible if there is an end to the [PA’s] demand that upholding the Oslo Accords and their commitments should be the central obligation. But for this to happen, the national interest should take precedence over individual, factional and family interests. Palestinian patriotism should take precedence over any other projects or axes or Arab, Islamic, regional, or international links.
Such a strategy should also include an agreement over the appropriate forms of action and struggle. In other words, there must be an agreement that no single faction (or any number of factions) should take the decision to make peace or go to war alone. This is a national decision that should be taken by the institutions of national consensus.
An agreement over the aforementioned requirements lead us to the importance of an agreement on establishing an all-inclusive national body, which supposedly should be the PLO after its institutions have been restructured to include the various shades of the political and social spectrum that believe in participation and the rules and aims of national democratic action.
In addition, there should also be an agreement on reconsidering the PA’s structure, tasks and commitments. This is necessary so as to ensure that it is transformed from a self-rule authority, into a national authority and the nucleus of a sovereign and free state. Should that prove to be impossible, the PA can go to hell. But in this case its demise would not be a form of political suicide. The PLO with its new vision derived from the lessons and morals of the past, and with the participation of the various shades of the political spectrum, can offer an alternative that prevents the vacuum from being filled by the occupation, or by terrorist organizations that don the garb of Islam, whereas Islam is as innocent of them as the wolf was innocent of the blood of Jacob’s son.
Anyone who claims that general elections are the sole means of ending the split or deciding its outcome without first achieving national unity is, knowingly or otherwise and with good or bad intentions, pushing for aggravating the split and resuming the infighting. They would be ignoring the fact that Palestine is under occupation and that in the absence of national unity, the occupation is a major player who can control the elections by allowing them to be held or preventing them, and by recognizing their results or refusing to do so, and by canceling them in a partial or comprehensive manner.
This is what happened after the last legislative elections. The occupation authorities boycotted the Hamas government and the national unity government. It arrested tens of MPs and many ministers, which foiled the Palestinian Legislative Council’s activities. And this happened in the absence of the will, measures, and laws agreed upon that could have forestalled the occupation’s ability to do so.
We simply cannot do without an agreement on the rules for common national and democratic action, because Palestine is in the phase of national liberation, and agreement on common denominators is a must. For example, an issue such as whether to adopt resistance or not is not a matter of opinion that is open to debate; it is a right and a duty. Whatever debate there is should be restricted to the forms of resistance appropriate for each phase, while refraining from denouncing or banning or rejecting any form of resistance that has been endorsed by all religious and secular laws.
The same goes for the attitude towards the political path that has been pursued since the Oslo Accords. The essence of that path is the illusion that it is possible to come to a resolution by reliance on bilateral negotiation as the sole or main path. This is not a matter of opinion, but a terrible mistake that has led us to the catastrophe that we find ourselves in today. And it will lead to an even greater catastrophe that would defer the Palestinian cause’s dossier until further notice. Consequently, there is an urgent need for a new political track that is fundamentally different from the course that has been adopted so far (that of either bilateral negotiations and armed resistance as the sole options).
In light of the above, we should not head to general elections before we settle the issue of the Palestinians’ commitment to the Oslo Accords, or that of staying under the ceiling of the political process that these accords have set. For unless we totally part ways with that process, it would lead to what is worse than Oslo, regardless of the [PA’s] merely verbal threat to withdraw from that track, while remaining hostage to its unfair restrictions in practice.
The national body must be grounded in the assumption that there can be no free and open elections that would consolidate and legitimize the current situation. Elections are a form of exercise of freedom, and there can be no freedom under occupation. The importance of holding elections stems from the extent to which they can contribute to ending the occupation, and that they can serve as one of the tools of the national program.
National unity on the basis of common denominators is unavoidable. It does not contradict pluralism, variety, competition, and the freedom to disagree. But these will all fall within the framework of a commitment to common program. Unity also can be the source of legitimacy if holding the elections proves to be impossible because the occupation refuses to allow them. In such a case, unity becomes a greater form of struggle to defeat the occupation.
Another issue needs to be addressed and settled: Is it possible, in light of the current Palestinian, Arab, regional and international factors, to achieve the aims of the minimal national program, or even a part of them, such as independence, the right of return, or equality? Or does any significant achievement call for a serious change in the balance of power?
This would take a long time, which implies that the Palestinian people’s immediate aims should be: To keep the national cause alive; to provide and fortify the factors that help Palestinians’ steadfastness and presence on the land of Palestine; to preserve the gains and achievements that have already been attained; to rehabilitate the cause as a national liberation movement; to rebuild the national movement, its representation and all-inclusive national institutions; to consolidate and enrich our national identity; and to defeat the Israeli schemes that target the Palestinian people wherever they are present.
All this requires a comprehensive process of renewal, change and reform of the various Palestinian factions and the overall political system, all based on a new vision. If this proves impossible, as appears for now at least, then this paves the way for the rise of new parties, factions, and social movements that can confront the challenges and threats that endanger the Palestinian cause, and to exploit the available opportunities. Such opportunities will remain available because of the Palestinian cause’s justice and moral superiority, and because of the Palestinian people’s adherence to their aims and their insistence on their struggle to achieve them no matter how long it takes and how costly the sacrifices prove to be.
They will also remain available because the true nature of the racist, settler-colonial occupation project has become increasingly clear internationally and in terms of world public opinion in particular. It has also become increasingly clear that Israeli policies lie at the source of the growing threats to regional and international security and stability.
“Finally, there are significant points of Israeli vulnerability that could neutralize its elements of superiority, provided that the Palestinians are able to exploit them properly and use them in their struggle against Israeli occupation,” concludes Masri.