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The White House is focusing on the wrong election

If Palestinians go to the polls in 6 months, Hamas is likely to take over the Palestinian Authority
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (Flash90, SAID KHATIB/AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (Flash90, SAID KHATIB/AFP)

Not unexpectedly, White House officials said on Monday that “the upcoming election in Israel on April 9 is one of many factors we are considering in evaluating the timing of the release of the peace plan.”

While the Israeli elections must be taken into consideration, I would argue that it probably more important that the White House take the upcoming Palestinian elections into consideration.

Last week, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian Constitutional Court had ordered the dissolution of the parliament and called for general PA elections within six months.

The decision of the court followed numerous previous statements that said that Abbas was considering dissolving the Parliament which, de facto, hasn’t functioned for over 12 years.

So what suddenly prompted Abbas to take action now and why should the White House give his decision precedence over the timing of the Israeli elections?

The last elections for the Palestinian parliament were held in 2006. Having won the outright majority of the seats in the Parliament, Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, was charged with forming the PA government and also appointed the speaker of the Palestinian parliament.

The days of the Hamas government were short.

Immediately after the elections, the international community realized that it could not continue its financial aid to the Hamas led PA and pressured Abbas to find an alternative or face losing the aid. Soon thereafter, in June 2006, days after Hamas kidnapped Gilad Shalit, Israel arrested the Hamas ministers resident in Judea and Samaria and put them on trial for membership in a terrorist organization.

These two moves allowed Abbas to depose the Hamas government and replace it with a so-called “technocrat” government.

Hamas in Gaza refused to submit to Abbas’ move. In July 2007, the organization violently took control of the Strip — throwing Fatah (Abbas’ party) members from roof tops — and established its own “government.”

In the absence of the Parliament, Abbas ruled the PA single-handedly, passing laws that would, in principle, one day be approved by the reconvened parliament. Hamas passed its own laws. Despite constant talks, neither one was in any particular hurry to find a solution.

Under PA law should the president leave office without a successor, the speaker of the Parliament takes over as president of the Palestinian Authority for two months after which presidential elections are held.

In other words, if Hamas just bides its time, and waits patiently for 83-year-old Abbas to leave the scene, it would be guaranteed the rule of the PA, albeit for an interim period.

A July 2018 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), found that 60 percent of Palestinians agreed that “in the case of Abbas’ absence, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Aziz Al-Dweik from Hamas, must become president for two months in implementation of the Basic Law.”

Having taken control, there is good reason to believe that Hamas will be unlikely relinquish it.

They would argue that Abbas, now entering his 14th year as PA chairman, has long outstayed his chairmanship, which is officially limited by PA law to a 4-year term. If a Fatah member could breach PA law and remain chairman for such an extended period of time, there is no reason why a Hamas representative should relinquish the duties, powers and responsibilities of the PA chairman, simply because the interim term is limited, ostensibly, by PA law.

Secondly, Abbas remained unchallenged in his position by using different excuses to avoid calling general PA elections. Hamas would most likely argue that the same rationales that supported the goose (Abbas/Fatah) are also good for the gander (Duwaik /Hamas).

It is most likely this scenario that pushed Abbas into action. His thinking is that if he dissolves the parliament, there will be no Hamas Speaker that will replace him, and thus he would open the door to for one of his Fatah cohorts to continue his despotic rule of the PA.

Of the many glaring problems with Abbas’ thought process one stands out.

According to a December survey conducted by the PCPSR if new elections for the PA parliament were held today, 34% would vote for Hamas and 35% for Fatah. The remaining 31% would either vote for other parties or are undecided.

If the results of the 2006 elections are still representative of the Palestinian street, in the next elections, to be held within six months, Hamas will again democratically take control of the PA.

This situation, more than the results of the Israeli elections, should worry the White House. What should worry the White House is not whether Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will again win Israel’s elections, but rather whether Ismail Haniyeh’s Hamas — an internationally designated terrorist organization, hell bent on Israel’s destruction — will win the PA elections.

About the Author
Lt. Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch is the Head of Legal Strategies for Palestinian Media Watch. He served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position he served as Director of the Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria.
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