17.12.06

Saturday, at noon, many Palestinians held their breath as President Mahmoud Abbas appeared on TV to deliver his long anticipated speech. Personally, I was of the opinion that nothing dramatic ever happens in this country, and so was not expecting much from the speech but sat to listen anyway. The president, unexpectedly, filled the gaps in his speech with unexpected humour and many colloquial phrases. He managed to contain a great deal of information as he did in another anticipated speech more than three years ago, when he resigned his prime minister post. However, all was dwarfed by the last sentence in which he declared that he will call for early presidential and legislative elections.

The general public might have conflicting opinions about this step. Hamas already considered it a coup, PFLP declared opposition while supporters of Fatah are celebrating, when there is really very little to celebrate. Personally, I found this a courageous step that was rarely preceded in Palestinian history since Oslo which was full of undelivered promises. However, one should not disregard the large implications of this declaration and the reactions that followed.

In essence, the president’s call for early elections is a confession of his inability to deal with the current crisis. This, he clarified in the speech describing the different milestones in his 2 years long presidency, and especially since this crisis start after the Hamas elections victory last January. However, what is more notable in this speech is that he accepts his role for in the deadlock as a protagonist of an opinion, thus the call for presidential elections and not only legislative. This shows a clear sense of responsibility on the part of Abbas who was elected based on a clear programme that is in conflict with programme on which Hamas was voted into power. The president is sending a clear message to the people asking them to choose clearly which programme they want their government to adopt.

On the other side, Hamas stands with the ball in its court refusing to play. They have presented an irresponsible attitude towards the crisis in which they have the larger share of responsibility. Hamas competed in an elections conducted on a constitutional basis they refuse to accept, this in itself is not politics-proper, but we have seen in other situations, most recently in the Egyptian presidential elections where some candidates participated in the elections while criticising the very amendment which allowed them to participate (rightly or not, that is another question). However, when a party is in power it is no longer a game with no consequences and a “pick-and-choose” strategy, in the words of Abbas, are no longer acceptable. In this case the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Palestinians was at stake, and this did not prompt Hamas leaders to tune down their arrogance which was boosted by their elections victory. They continued to make the same statements as they did before coming to power which can least be described as obnoxious.

Still yet, there are many impediments to this elections, most remarkably constitutional. The constitutionality of these elections is debateable since there is no text in the Basic Law that allows the President to dissolve the Parliament and call for fresh elections. On the other hand, there is no text that prohibits him from doing so. In his speech, the president focused on one particular article in the Palestinian Basic Law which states that the “people are the source of authority”, and, therefore, since there is a conflict between the two branches of the political authority, the president seeks to go back to the people to choose the programme for their government. This, however, does not provide a strong enough basis for the elections. Hamas, along with other parties opposed to the elections, can still take the matter to the Constitutional Court which has the sole right to uncover the ambiguity of the text and decide if this article is a sufficient constitutional basis for the call. However, Hamas’s record does not suggest that they would accept the Court’s decision.

What Hamas needs at the time being is some political wisdom. Their leaders and decision makers should understand that they cannot have all the pie to themselves and expect everything to be fine. The cannot expect to enter a political process without accepting its framework, or expect support without a political price to pay. More than all, Hamas cannot expect that they can be in politics and continue to act like a militant movement. You can rarely see a replication of this case around the world, and those which do implement are in political isolation, a price us Palestinians cannot afford to pay.

I have never supported Hamas nor Fatah. I am also still opposed to the Oslo process. However, given the choice between a government based on rhetoric and defiance to the whole world, and one that is more concerned of the plight of its people, I would definitely choose the later.

1 comment:

Zayna said...

Your quite hard on hamas and quite kind to abbas. I dont support either; but hamas seems to be more honourable and abbas is favoured by israel & co which says something i think.

If hamas become more 'political', will that not just mean toeing the line and accepting western politics? Its not that israel and the west works by diplomacy or something - they work as militants and pretend politics. Isnt this the mistakes made by palestinian leadership in the past? ie oslo

What palestinians are suffering now is horrendous; but probably they would be suffering just as bad if fateh had won the elections - just in different, hidden, ways?