The two Palestinian rivals, Fatah and Hamas, in search of legitimacy, recently agreed to hold elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, and three months later to the presidency of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Yet, elections will only aggravate the situation in the Palestinian territories, smashing any hopes for improvement and possibly leading to more intra-Palestinian violence and terrorist attacks against Israel.
Israel has no interest in strengthening the likely winner, Hamas, by it gaining additional legitimacy. Invariably, relatively free elections in the Arab world produce good results for the Islamists. Therefore, Israel should oppose elections that allow a terrorist organization intent on destroying the Jewish state to appear on the ballot. Israel should also reverse it past permission to hold elections in east Jerusalem, its sovereign territory.
The Palestinians, like much of the Arab world, are not ripe yet for having a democracy. The last elections for the PA presidency took place in January 2005. The winner was Mahmoud Abbas from Fatah, and who is still in office. Hamas won the last legislative elections in January 2006, leading to a deadlock in Palestinian politics.
The Palestinians, like much of the Arab world, are not yet ripe for having a democracy.
A short military confrontation between Fatah and Hamas over control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 ended with a complete victory for the Islamist organization that has ruled Gaza ever since. The planned elections are supposed to muster lost legitimacy for both organizations and eventually bridge over the schism in the Palestinian national movement. Yet, there is no indication that the Palestinian body politic inches toward democracy. The PA and Hamas rulers are dictatorial and thoroughly corrupt.
Palestinians have little confidence in their governing institutions. Indeed, a recent PCSR poll showed that half of the Palestinian public thinks elections, if they were to take place, will be neither free nor fair; indeed, a majority do not have faith in the integrity or neutrality of the police forces in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to protect the election process, and a large majority believe that whoever loses the elections will reject the results.
Elections will entrench skepticism of the Palestinian political system and will result in additional blame for the constant Palestinian scapegoat for their troubles: Israel. More hatred toward Israel will only add to the dysfunctional Palestinian attempt to build a homeland.
Actually, Israel has the right to block elections that allow Hamas members to participate in the electoral process. In accordance to the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (Annex 2, Article 3.2), the nomination of any candidates, parties or coalitions will be refused, if they "pursue the implementation of their aims by unlawful or non-democratic means."
A terrorist organization that took power by a military coup in Gaza definitely fits this description. Launching missiles at Israeli civilian population centers is patently not lawful. Political entities committed to terrorism must be prevented from participating in the Palestinian elections.
In 2006, Ariel Sharon caved into American pressure and allowed Hamas to take part in elections. The American vain hope was that Hamas would mellow if it was allowed to be part of the political process. Yet, Hamas still refuses to denounce terrorism and recognize the international agreements signed by the PLO.
The bitter truth is that only the purging of Hamas from the Palestinian political body might bring a chance of a real peace process and coexistence. A likely Hamas electoral victory will add a mantle of legitimacy to this murderous organization.
Relying on previous precedents, Abbas insists that the vote should take place not only in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but also in Jerusalem. Meeting his condition is not self-evident, as Israel has strengthened in recent years its rule of the Arab neighborhoods in the capital. Moreover, the Likud-led government, ahead of national elections in Israel, is unlikely to make concessions to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, of all places.
Therefore, the position of Abbas seems to put in doubt the PA's sincerity in its acquiescence to allow elections. Actually, a majority of Palestinians think elections should be held regardless of the Israeli decision on east Jerusalem's participation.
In any case, Israel should not allow elections for a foreign entity to take place within its own sovereign territory. If any Arab Jerusalemite wants to exercise his citizen's right to vote in the PA, he can travel 15-20 minutes to Ramallah. Alternatively, the PA can offer an absentee ballot mechanism as do many other states.
Allowing the establishment of voting booths in east Jerusalem undermines Israel sovereignty there and gives false hope that Israel will agree to divide the city. No Israeli government can survive politically if it agrees to the city's partition. Close to 70% of Israelis want the city united with the Temple Mount under Israeli control.
Palestinian elections in the Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem also undermine the Israelization process, which is taking place among Arab residents of Jerusalem. Polls in recent years show that a majority prefer the status quo, i.e. Israeli rule.
The number of Arab residents in Jerusalem who register for Israeli citizenship is growing. The Arabs of Jerusalem are fully integrated in the Israeli economy. More and more take Hebrew classes to improve their linguistic skills in order to compete and advance their economic status. Similarly, there is an increase in high school students in east Jerusalem who prefer studying at schools teaching the Israeli curriculum, which prepares them better for acceptance by a good university.
Until Hamas renounces violence, it should be barred from participating in elections.
As long as Hamas is unwilling to recognize Israel and renounce the use of violence, the Israeli government has the legal right to bar its participation in the Palestinian democratic charade. Moreover, it should be crystal-clear that Jerusalem is not the place to hold elections to a foreign entity.
Such an Israeli decision will meet international criticism, although the act of preventing legitimacy for the Islamist Hamas could elicit some understanding. Israel can probably get support for its position from Washington. Above all, stressing Israel's sovereignty in Jerusalem is most important.
Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.