Monday, December 20, 2004


Barghouti's withdrawal

Graham Usher expounds in al-Ahram upon those points that I was trying to make in this earlier post about Marwan Barghouti's decision to withdraw his candidacy. Usher writes:
From the outset of his candidacy Barghouti was met with wall-to-wall opposition from the Fatah establishment, with its newly appointed leader, Farouk Qaddumi, threatening the elected parliamentarian with expulsion.

There was also what can only be described as a global campaign of intimidation. Colin Powell called Barghouti's campaign "problematic"; President Mubarak all but instructed him to stand down "since Palestinians do not need differences at this time"; and Britain hinged a London conference in January in support of the Palestinians on Abbas (and only Abbas) being elected president. The message from all was unequivocal: there would be no diplomatic reward if the Palestinians replace a besieged Palestinian leader with an imprisoned one.

Barghouti presumably anticipated this opposition. What he may not have expected was the degree of hostility from those who had been his supporters in Fatah. The grassroots Fatah Higher Committee was split over his candidacy, while Fatah's parliamentary deputies, prisoner leaders and militia commanders opposed it.

The prisoners and militiamen's opposition is not hard to fathom. In a clear sign of the times they see Abbas -- and the international and regional legitimacy he commands -- as perhaps the only key to their early release or general amnesty. The others however clearly preferred the conservatism of national unity to the radicalism of democratic choice. "We don't need Marwan to run now," said one reformist Palestinian lawmaker. "We need a unity candidate so that the elections will happen and Israel has no pretext for refusing to negotiate with us."...

Perhaps the saddest consequence of Barghouti's decision to withdraw is that the Palestinians will be denied a say on the wisdom of that strategy. As Palestinian political analyst, Khalil Shikaki, points out, Barghouti's candidacy would have turned the presidential election into a referendum on "continuing or ending the four-year Intifada, which he helped to instigate". Instead the Palestinians have a candidate who opposes the Intifada in the hope that negotiations and international support will deliver them a state. The alternatives are not running: they are languishing in an Israeli jail or mining tunnels filled with explosives in Gaza.
There is no longer any real election; the winner has been chosen and now the Palestinians are just going through the motions (to the extent that the IDF allows them). The idea that this was primarily determined by internal party power plays and international pressure (some might even say meddling) is not the way to go about inspiring and exciting those in the Middle East about democracy. In fact, I'm sure it only reinforces the prevailing belief that democracy is just a word that the US throws out there to soften criticism of it's use of power and force in the region for US gain.

Alex, I'm thinking it's very similar to what happens in the party primaries here, in some ways. Like Kerry gets tagged "electable" and quite suddenly, he's the candidate and Dean is out. It's always been hard for me to see how these things happen because they really can't be "grassroots" reactions or determinations. In Marwan's case, the analog would probably have to be something like Nelson Mandela. Or Ghandi. But there, the thing is that these men were espousing a different way of standing up to repression. And they were facing the British and the Boers as the repressors. The Brits couldn't really claim they were bringing any colonial peoples "freedom"; their big thing was cultural supremacy and unrepentant racist specialism.

I've been thinking about this for the past week. It seems to me that there has to be a shaming of the oppressing power before there is change in these colonial-occupation situations. The psychological barriers to the Israelis feeling shamed by their treatment of Palestinians is huge. The political barriers to any non-violent Palestinian being provided a sufficient exposure for the development of a worldwide movement in the Palestinians' support are also huge, thanks to the US-Israeli twinning.

Aunt Deb
I definitely was thinking the same thing. And anybody who didn't withdraw his/her candidacy after the first couple of primaries was seen somehow as being an obstructionist. So much for democracy.
You know, this democracy/election thing is really puzzling me. I don't see the connection between that and having a nation-state. Clearly, it is totally irrelevant to nationalism and national identity -- an election, I mean. So what is this election supposed to achieve for Palestinians, bottom line? Abbas is hoping it will give him the platform I was talking about in my first rambling. But I'm thinking more and more that this means an 'election' is just another form of frat brother hazing. So strange.
That would be me, Aunt Deb, up there on that last post. This business with Blogger bloggering up my password is really getting too tiresome.

Aunt Deb
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