After election pledge from Abbas, what next for Palestine?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves to his supporters in Ramallah, in the West Bank. (Reuters/File)
Updated 02 October 2019

After election pledge from Abbas, what next for Palestine?

  • The president’s call for polls is being seen as ‘timely’ after he exhausted all attempts to end split with Hamas

GAZA CITY: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly last week that he plans to set a date for the first general election in 13 years in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. Is it possible to hold such an election, and is the best option to turn the page and start a new chapter after the internal split between Fatah and Hamas, which has caused more than a decade of division and fragmentation?
Observers believe that Fatah leader Abbas is serious this time in his intent to call the election, after the failure of repeated attempts to reconcile and heal the divisions among Palestinians. The road will not be easy, however, with the possibility that Hamas will block any voting in Gaza, and Israel might do the same in Jerusalem.
Responding quickly to the pledge by Abbas, Hamas announced its readiness to contest an election, but added that it must be inclusive and take place as part of presidential, legislative and Palestine Liberation Organization National Council elections.
Ra’afat Morra, the head of Hamas’ foreign media department, said that the announcement by Abbas was “vague and unclear,” and added: “We cannot deal with elections and national issues in a piecemeal way. We need a comprehensive Palestinian vision that addresses the issues of Palestinians at home and abroad. This requires a comprehensive dialogue, leading to inclusive elections at all levels and a national consensus.”
He said that Hamas, which controls Gaza, would not accept an election for only the Palestinian Legislative Council; any vote would have to include the Legislative Council, the presidency and the National Council.
Hamas won a majority in the last election for the Legislative Council, in early 2006. The constitutional term covered by that election ended on January 2010, while Abbas’ presidential term ended in 2009. In the absence of any subsequent elections, they remained in place. The Constitutional Court, which was formed by Abbas in 2016 without a national consensus, issued a ruling last year ordering that the Legislative Council be dissolved.
The focus on legislative elections only during Abbas’ announcement, Morra said, was “a systematic sabotage and disruption of any Palestinian understanding that achieves the supreme national interest.”

FASTFACT

The road will not be easy, however, with the possibility that Hamas will block any voting in Gaza, and Israel might do the same in Jerusalem.

Fatah views the call by the president for a general elections as timely and appropriate after exhausting all attempts to end the split with Hamas, according to Revolutionary Council spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmi. He added that the move will not be subject to the consent of any party, because elections are a political and constitutional right of Palestinians.
Abbas did not specify whether his call includes a presidential election, but Al-Qawasmi said it would be limited to “legislative elections leading to the formation of a new government, which would restore the political system and fill the vacuum left by the absence of the Legislative Council.”
Abbas’ announcement of his election plans was widely welcomed by Palestinian groups, including the eight factions that last week launched a reconciliation initiative that is officially approved by Hamas.
“The call for elections must be accompanied by national consensus within the parameters set by the factions, namely the holding of general and comprehensive elections in all parts of the political system, including the Legislative Council, the Presidency and the PLO, based on the lists electoral system,” said Talal Abu Zarifa, a member of the Political Bureau of the Democratic Front, one of the eight factions.
But Al-Qawasmi said that Fatah did not find anything new or different in the factions’ initiative from what had been committed by Fatah in previous agreements.
Political writer Hani Habib said that Abbas appears to be serious this time in his desire to call an election — even if he is forced to hold it in the West Bank and Jerusalem only, if Hamas objects to it in Gaza — and might have already received regional and international support for this approach.
But Khaldoun Barghouti, an expert in Israeli affairs, said that Israel is likely to prevent the Palestinian Authority from holding elections in Jerusalem because it wants to maintain the status quo in the city after US President Donald Trump recognized full Israeli sovereignty over it as the capital of Israel.


Arabs reject use of religion to gain power, poll suggests

Updated 24 min 24 sec ago

Arabs reject use of religion to gain power, poll suggests

  • Use of religion for political gain is rejected by 58 percent of respondents in a YouGov poll
  • Experts believe there is now more awareness of the tactics of religion-based political parties

DUBAI: Across the Arab world, an increasing number of citizens disagree with the “use of religion for political gain,” according to a recent YouGov survey.

As part of its partnership with the Arab Strategy Forum, Arab News commissioned a survey of the views and concerns of Arabs today and their projections for the future of the region.

A total of 3,079 Arabic speakers were surveyed, aged 18 and above and living across 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Results revealed that 43 percent strongly disagree with the “use of religion for political gain,” while 15 percent “somewhat disagree.” By contrast, 7 percent strongly agree and 8 percent “somewhat agree.”

Another 14 percent “neither agree nor disagree” with the “use of religion for political gain.”

The combined average, however, unambiguously opposes the idea — at 58 percent. “The cases of Lebanon and Iraq shows a streak of anti-sectarianism rather than that of anti-religion per se,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi.

“Religious beliefs are deep-seated in these societies, so the advent of Western-style secularism in the region is doubtful. Even the most secular country in the Middle East, Turkey, turned out to have religious inclinations when it voted in an Islamist party” more than a decade ago. 

As long as people have little trust in political institutions, they will revert to their primary social institutions, notably religion, family and tribe, Al-Shateri told Arab News.

Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, said that the YouGov findings suggest that the days of using religion for political gain are over.

“We are seeing more and more awareness that religion-based political parties are not so genuine in their religious preaching,” he told Arab News.

“People are becoming aware that those who preach freedom, equality, democracy and women’s empowerment using religious discourse are no longer believable.”

Significant numbers disagreed with the statement in Iraq and Kuwait (74 percent), as well as in Lebanon (73 percent), Libya (75 percent), Sudan (79 percent), and Syria and Yemen (71 percent). 

“Ultimately, it’s a question of credibility of politicians,” said Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at Chatham House, adding that “the credibility of political establishments is on the decrease globally because they are failing to deliver.”

He said that there is a general sense globally that political establishments are corrupt and not credible, which he partly pins on shifts in generational issues.

“Your grandparents’ concerns were probably more nationalistic,” he told Arab News.

“The generation of your parents were more about religion and, frankly, the new generation is more concerned about gender issues than anything else.

“Nationalism is totally irrelevant to them and religion far less.”

According to Shehadi, exploitation of religion no longer stirs up the young generation as they have different concerns. “They are on a different planet from politicians,” he said.

“Politicians are addressing issues that are very different from what the new generation is concerned with.”

With unrest continuing in several Arab countries, including Iraq and Lebanon, Abdulla sees it as a second round of the so-called Arab Spring, this time gripping Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq.

“What is clear is that this second round is much more peaceful, focused and has already delivered a great deal,” he said.

“In Sudan, we have seen a very peaceful transition that was done to the satisfaction of the Sudanese people, and transition to democracy is going smoothly.

“In Algeria, it’s settling down and an election is coming up with some opposing it. But none of these two cases have witnessed the violence that engulfed Libya and Syria.”

That said, the future will depend on how governments and societies respond to the demands of the youth, according to Al-Shateri.

“The region faces many problems. However, the underlying cause is the lack of good governance. The concept of good governance has its provenance in Arab and Islamic traditions; it is not the equivalent of Westminster-style government necessarily.

“It is based on accountability, justice, equality, rule of law, ombudsmanship and the right to petition the government.”

Al-Shateri said Lebanon, Algeria, Iran and Iraq are examples of countries that have failed to provide these conditions, adding that the same was the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria when the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2011.

If regional countries achieve good governance, Al-Shateri expects many improvements in society, the economy and governance. “Short of that, the region will languish in backwardness, underdevelopment and conflict,” he said.