The Palestinian Elections: View from the Diaspora
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The Palestinian Elections: View from the Diaspora

Oslo is dead. This is not much of a scoop, as analysts and pundits have been saying and writing these words for many years, at least since the Intifada of September 2000 began. But now that the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections of January 25th, 2006, are over, we can officially turn off the lights on the agreement that, along with the first U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1991, has led to, arguably, the most difficult period in the modern history of Palestinian and Arab World politics.

This is not to say that the death of Oslo and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) victory in the PLC elections will immediately lead to freedom and independence for the Palestinians. The Israeli military continues its occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem, and there are still approximately 5.5 million Palestinian refugees calling for their Right to Return, back to the lands and homes in historic Palestine they were forced to flee in 1947-48 and again in 1967. The paradox of a democracy under military occupation, or a “government” of any kind under military occupation, is what doomed Oslo from the outset, so there were strong and consistent arguments from some Palestinians that the elections could only be a farce and a waste of time and resources. In fact, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad carried this opinion into a boycott of the entire process.

But even as we acknowledge that the result of the elections is not a panacea to the issues that afflict the Palestinian people, 78% of eligible voters turned out to state defiantly that they support resistance and liberation over the status quo of a failed state-building project. Yasser Arafat’s death in November 2004 has definitely caused a crisis in the leadership of his Fatah Movement, but this is not the only reason why it lost so resoundingly to Hamas. The Palestinian Authority (PA), which was formed after Oslo and dominated by Fatah, could no longer claim, even while Arafat was alive, that it was representative of the Palestinian people, that it was providing for the safety and security of the Palestinians, or that the “peace process” and “negotiations track” was leading to anything but the continued construction of the Apartheid Wall, land expropriations, home demolitions, imprisonment of activists and organizers, and injuring and killing of Palestinian civilians. The PA had become a failure at building a state infrastructure and, at the same time, a failure at resisting the Israeli onslaught against its people.

And at its worst, some of the PA’s top leadership could even be considered complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people. Hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and infrastructural support is unaccounted for, and “security cooperation” between the PA, the Israeli intelligence and military agencies, and quite often, the U.S. CIA, led directly to the arrests of hundreds of Palestinian freedom fighters.

All of these factors helped lead to the Hamas victory, and the municipal elections from a few months back had already semi-predicted this outcome, but the clearest champion today is the Palestinian National Movement in general. The Palestinian people in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem voted for the Right of Return, for self-determination, and for continued resistance to Israeli and American plans for the region. On December 23rd, 2005, seventy U.S. senators passed a resolution labeling Palestinian resistance organizations as “terrorist groups” and attempted to prevent them from running in the elections. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP, a Marxist Palestinian group), as well as other resistance parties and movements, responded by threatening to boycott the elections if the PA acceded to these U.S. and Israeli demands against democracy.

The U.S. and European Union also threatened to cut aid to the Palestinian people if Hamas or any of the other resistance organizations were victorious in the elections. Millions of U.S. dollars were pumped into Fatah’s campaign, but the Palestinian masses refused to be bullied into intimidation or fear.

The different social forces and political parties in Palestinian society made this election a mandate on the Palestinian national program. The last PLC election was boycotted by the majority of these forces, because at the time, Oslo was in its infancy and those elections were considered a referendum on that agreement. Members of Fatah dominated that PLC, and it degenerated into nothing more than a body that rubber-stamped all of the PA’s policies and decisions. Now, as the Palestinian masses made clear their support for these legislative elections, the PLC is a more representative body that will protect the achievements of the five and a half years of this popular Intifada, and the 58 years of resistance to Israel’s racist and brutal colonialism.

So, Hamas is not the only winner today in Palestine. Victorious also is the Right of Return, freedom for political prisoners, self-determination, resistance, and maybe the most important concept of all-the fact that Palestinians are an indivisible nation, inclusive of all those in the 1967 occupied territories, the 1948 territories, and especially the shatat (Arabic for Diaspora).

After Oslo, the PLC ostensibly replaced the Palestinian National Council (PNC, the “parliament in exile” and the highest decision-making body of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO]), and over the last fifteen years, a new discourse was being developed and pressed on the Palestinian people-one that was slowly attempting to erode the rights of the Palestinians in the shatat, especially the refugees. But the refugee community, in camps throughout the Arab World and the occupied territories, and under the leadership of the worldwide Right of Return Movement (including Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, active in North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe), rejected this discourse and forced the movements and parties that represent them in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza to take note. These forces made the Right of Return the main issue in their respective election platforms, and they rode these platforms to victory over the self-serving rhetoric and defeatism of some elements of Fatah and the PA.

Also defeated was the rhetoric of the international community, including the United Nations, and some of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), many extremely well-funded, which have been continuously making the argument that, as the Electronic Intifada website co-founder Ali Abunimah wrote, “Palestinian ‘reform,’ rather than an end to the Israeli occupation, is the way to resolve the conflict.”

These ruling class (PA) and NGO-based Palestinians, as well as the Quartet (Russia, the EU, the UN, and the U.S.), have been essentially lobbying for a two state solution, one that does not take into consideration the political, social, and economic demands of the majority of the Palestinian people, in Palestine and the shatat. So the PLC elections must be analyzed in the context of the worldwide movement of Palestinian social forces, those that are shifting once again to the re-establishment of the institutions of the PLO, especially the reformation of the PNC.

A few months ago, a historic conference took place in Geneva, Switzerland, in which over 90 shatat Palestinians from across the world, including a delegation from North America, met to debate the state of Palestinian affairs in the Diaspora. These attendees agreed to begin discussions about rebuilding Palestinian-led institutions in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, with the ultimate goal of organizing PNC elections in these regions. This is imperative to understand, for if this movement in the shatat is successful, the new PLC members will ultimately become members-at-large of the PNC, and exiled and refugee Palestinians will again take their rightful place in the leadership of the worldwide Palestinian National Movement, under the auspices of a rejuvenated PLO.

Hamas must understand this as well, because the masses of Palestinians who marked their votes for the Islamic Resistance Movement were not voting for a specific Hamas program; in fact, it did not offer one. They were not voting for an indiscriminate ideological shift to an Islamic solution for the Palestinian people. These revolutionary forces of workers, peasants, women, teachers, students, and youth, among others, were voting for a change in discourse, for a popular, democratic representation that they have not experienced since Oslo and the demise of the PLO. They fought the Israeli and U.S. war machines for this vote, and they deserve to join their exiled and refugee compatriots in establishing unified institutions that will continue the struggle for national liberation.

Now that Hamas has the opportunity to work with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to appoint ministers approved by the PLC and, at least nominally, govern in the West Bank and Gaza, the PA must become a different entity. One that understands that the Palestinians are still in the national liberation stage of their struggle and the importance of re-forming the PNC and the PLO in this context, disavows corruption, governs by democratic principles, and never attempts to negotiate away the core demands of the Palestinian National Movement-among them the right of resistance, the Right of Return, freedom for all political prisoners, and an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.

A number of Palestinian political prisoners won seats in the PLC, most notably Marwan Al-Barghouthi, leader of Fatah’s armed wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and Ahmad Saadat of the PFLP. Saadat is being illegally held (according to a Palestinian High Court decision) in a PA detention camp in Jericho, and Hamas will be expected to release him and many others being held there as well.

There is also some concern that Fatah will challenge Hamas’ victory in the streets, and we have already seen a few armed Fatah demonstrations that led to clashes with Hamas. But the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade criticized the organizers (probably referring to Mohammad Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub, soon to be ex-PA security “chiefs” who have little popular support and are widely considered favorites of the U.S. and Israel) of these demonstrations as the “ones who spread corruption and greatly contributed to the humiliating Fatah defeat.”

The Palestinian people have spoken in a collective, unified, and strong voice. The Palestinian shatat is also speaking, congratulating its compatriots, supporting the continued resistance to Israeli/U.S. occupation and colonialism, and expecting the PLC election returns to lead to renewed popular support for worldwide Palestinian representation in the decisions of its leadership.