Friday, June 25, 2004

 

Update on Palestinian Elections

After hearing Saeb Erekat speak yesterday about his meeting with Colin Powell, I am convinced that most fruitful and productive plan of action for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to have Palestinian elections. Yesterday Mr. Erekat, the head negotiator for the PA, said that he told Mr. Powell that there would be Palestinian elections in 6 months (enough time to register voters, allow for campaigning, etc.) if Israel would help facilitate the environment where elections would be possible. Of course, this would mean US involvement and there are reasons that this would be good for the US. Many of these were outlined in Jackson Diehl's May 23 Washington Post op-ed, "Why Not Palestinian Elections?" A brief summary of the key positive results for the US:

1) The US would add greater legitimacy to the elections in Iraq if they were to be held around the same time as Palestinian elections. The US would be seen less as a colonizer and occupier and more as they would like to be seen, as liberators or democratizers. There may well be less violence in Iraq or at least less support for Iraqi violence around the region.

2) In general, the US has done nothing recently to push the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis recently. This would re-energize the peace process and cast the US in a very different light around the Middle East.

3) The popularity of the militant Palestinian factions is likely only to grow a) if Israel continues to "prepare" for the Gaza withdrawal by bulldozing homes, assassinating militants, killing Palestinians civilians, and tightening closures and curfews and/or b) if Israel continues to expand settlements in the West Bank and continues to build the wall around settlements deep in the West Bank such as Ariel.

4) A change in leadership (even if Arafat continues to be President) would be something that the US could point to as a success to the Palestinians and Middle East as an example of democracy, to Israel as bringing in new blood, and to the US as weakening Arafat's control.

So why then, would Israel want to see Palestinian elections (or rather, why would they facilitate them)? First of all, for the same reasons as the US vis a vis Arafat and getting some new leadership involved. Second, Sharon would be able to bring the Labor Party into his government and control a unity government, giving him much greater stability as Prime Minister. Third, as I wrote earlier in the week, according to Ha'aretz:
The IDF in recent weeks has identified steps taken by the Palestinian Authority to prevent terror activity. The PA has stopped transferring money to the Fatah's military wing - the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and has been exerting efforts, for the first time in a long time, at preventing terror.
Thus, Sharon can maintain his "no negotiations under the threat of terrorism" line. Finally, the Saudi proposal, which was approved at the Arab League summit in March, set the stage for normalized relations with Israel. Facilitating elections would encourage warming, if not full normalization, of relations with Israel in the region.

The benefits for the Palestinians are pretty obvious. There can be some effort towards rebuilding civil society, towards marginalizing radicals and empowering moderates and liberals in Palestinian society. There can be a lull in violence and closure and a sense of hope.

According to Saeb Erekat, Powell did not commit himself to the plan for Palestinian elections (municipal, legislative, and presidential), but he did not oppose it either. I think the US has an obligation to work for free elections in Palestine, for the benefit of all parties involved. Septemeber 23rd is the tentative date for municipal elections in Jericho, and hopefully just the beginning of something larger.

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