by Gerry Foley
Political polarization among the Palestinian forces is being accelerated by the pressures of the local government elections that started on Dec. 23 and the
elections for the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) scheduled for Jan. 9. The basic issue is hardly the ordinary rivalry among politicians. It
is the Intifada itself.
Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the candidate of the main historic Palestinian resistance organization, Al Fatah, has declared openly that the armed Intifada was a mistake. He has been making more and more gestures of reconciliation with Israel. The recent Israeli release of 159 Palestinian prisoners was generally interpreted as a move to strengthen Abu Mazen’s hand.
What the Zionist rulers want from their protege is help in suppressing the armed Palestinian militants.
They have made it absolutely clear for a long time that they will not deal with any Palestinian Authority that does not aid them in that job. This is also the
demand of their imperialist big brother, the United States.
In his brief term as premier of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen moved as close as he dared to meeting this ultimatum, but he could not get very far.
His government fell.
Now Abu Mazen is virtually certain to be elected president of the PA, since the main rivals of Fatah—the Islamist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad—are
boycotting the vote, and the Fatah bureaucracy has closed ranks around the former PA premier.
The only serious rival to Abu Mazen, Marwan Barghouti, a jailed Fatah leader, was forced to withdraw his candidacy or face expulsion from Fatah. If Barghouti had been allowed to run, he would have been an alternative for supporters of militant resistance. His candidacy seriously ruffled the dovecotes of the Fatah bureaucracy, whose basic interest is enjoying the benefits of having a ministate of their own. That is why they were determined not to let him run.
The results of the Dec. 23 local elections are an indication of the strength of the militants. In fact, in the wake of these elections, Abu Mazen has tried to
assure a more militant image.
In these elections, the first in the West Bank and Gaza since 1976, Hamas participated and scored a political breakthrough. The precise results in the
race for about 300 local council seats remain unclear, since a lot of the candidates were not publicly labeled.
Both Fatah and Hamas are claiming that they won a majority of the seats up for election, according to the Lebanese French-language daily L’Orient Le Jour of Dec. 27. But all major press, from the liberal Zionist Haaretz to Le Monde concur that Hamas showed unexpected strength, which shocked Al Fatah.
The Christian Science Monitor of Dec. 27 quoted Al Fatah’s campaign manager in the West Bank town of Obadeah, where Hamas won the mayoralty, as follows: “‘I’m trying to wake up from this shock,’ he says.
‘The Imams in the mosques must have persuaded people to sympathize with the Islamists.’”
However, it is obvious that most of the people who voted for Hamas did so because they see it as self-sacrificing and intransigent against the Zionist
state. In contrast, the Fatah leadership has been losing credibility as defenders of the rights of the Palestinian people and is seen more and more as a group of corrupt parasites feeding on the foreign aid that goes to the Palestinian Authority.
Of course, Fatah and the resistance organizations loosely affiliated to it have been suffering cruel losses from the Zionist repression, like Hamas. (One
of the leaders of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, nominally under the umbrella of Fatah, Abu Kamil, was deliberately buried alive on Dec. 25 by an Israeli
bulldozer under the ruins of a building in which he was hiding in the West Bank town of Jenin. His brother was killed by Israeli troops a week before, and his
house was destroyed.)
But there is also obvious discontent among fighters in the orbit of Fatah against the higher echelons of the movement and against PA officials whom they suspect of selling them out. It is not unlikely that a lot of Fatah supporters voted for the Hamas candidates as an alternative to the conciliationism of their top leaders.
The Christian Science Monitor correspondent quoted a Fatah official who tried to put a positive face on the Hamas breakthrough by saying that the Islamist
organization would now have to come to grips with the problems of actually governing. He certainly knows that the Islamists have no answer to the problems of the Palestinian people and that their campaign of
suicide bombings has no future.
But Al Fatah does not have any answers either. And until the Palestinian people can find a leadership that does really represent them and does have answers to their problems, they will at least show their determination to continue the struggle by supporting what appears to be the more intransigent party.
The two historic left factions in the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, are not supporting Abu Mazen. The first has announced its support for Mustafa Barghouti, an independent human rights activist with the same family name as Marwan Barghouti. He is expected to come in second in the race and may gather a significant protest vote. The
DFLP is running its own candidate, who polls indicate will get 7 percent.
It remains to be seen whether Abu Mazen can achieve conciliation with Israel any more effectively as PA president than he could as PA premier. The results of the Palestinian local elections indicate that his ability to give the Israelis what they want is still very limited.
In the past, moreover, the Zionist rulers were not prepared to make the slightest concessions to the Palestinians. Now, under U.S. pressure, they may give more, but are highly unlikely to give much. They did not even keep the commitment they made in the 1992 Oslo Agreements to cut back the Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
It is only with great difficulty that the Sharon government has agreed to withdraw the settlements from the Gaza Strip, where a million Palestinians are
crowded into a desolate strip of land that has no serious value for Israel. And Sharon has made it clear that he is only removing the Gaza settlements to
strengthen the Zionist hold on the parts of the West Bank that do have value for Israel.
Thus, it is unlikely that the Palestinian Authority elections will lead to any important changes in the relations between the Palestinians and the Zionists.
The greatest hope for the future, though it is impossible now to measure, is that the political struggle over the elections will promote political debate among the Palestinians that can open the way for the emergence of a new and more effective kind of leadership.
This new leadership would be based directly on the mobilized people and could effectively focus all of the militancy of the Palestinians, and the vast
sympathy that exists for them in the region and throughout the world, against the racist and reactionary Zionist state.