Before the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) held its last election for president — in 2005, I was talking to a Palestinian from the West Bank who had excellent connections with the P.A. He thought that Hamas would do very well in the elections, explaining that all Palestinians knew that the P.A. was terribly corrupt, but that, in comparison, Hamas seemed honest.
I lived in Jerusalem’s Old City then. Yasser Arafat, who was all but worshiped among Palestinians, had died the previous November, Everyone knew that Mahmoud Abbas had been Arafat’s number 2 for decades. In those days, I frequently walked in the Old City’s Muslim and the Christian Quarters, where many Muslims live and work. When I did, I saw Abbas posters on wall after wall. All of them had photographs of Abbas with Arafat. When the elections were held, Abbas won; essentially, he had been elected on Arafat’s coattails.
In 2006, Hamas won a majority of seats in the P.A. legislature — a legislature that has not met in years. The P.A, has held no elections since. Abbas is now in the 16th year of his four-year term.
The claims of corruption in the P.A. were well founded: Arafat died a Billionaire. Abbas and his sons, together, are worth hundreds of millions of dollars (estimates vary as to how many hundreds of millions). One does not make that kind of money on either a soldier’s or an honest government official’s pay.
Corruption, of course, is a relative term. Many of the high-level members of Hamas are said to be millionaires. At least two are reported to be Billionaires.
The P.A. and Hamas have announced that, together, they will hold elections later this year. While most people in Israel will be very surprised if these elections actually take place (they have been promised numerous times before), they are still scheduled. The latest information is that 93% of eligible Palestinians have registered to vote. Corruption within the P.A., which is rampant, is again an election issue. All of the candidates have said they are willing to accept a Palestinian State based on the 1967 borders, a position which Israel is sure to reject.
If elections are held, Abbas is in serious trouble. Moreover, his problems do not stop with corruption. Abbas is very unpopular, old, and sick. Because Arafat is now long dead, Abbas cannot rely on his coattails again.
For 15 years, Abbas has been trying to convince the international community to put enough political pressure on Israel to force it to give in to his demands. That approach has obviously failed. Moreover, the Abraham Accords have made it clear that many Sunni Arab countries are fed up with the P.A, even though it, too, is Sunni, but view Israel as a possible source of both military support against Shia Iran, as well as a major partner for trade and tourism. Many of the Sunni Arab countries have stopped funding the P.A. Abbas’ party, Fatah, is said to be falling apart. One of Abbas’ problems in getting re-elected is that electorates don’t like losers.
If Abbas loses, it is not clear who will win. According to press reports, the leading candidate is Marwan Barghouti — the man who was in charge of the second intifada in which over 1,000 Israelis were murdered. Barghouti is being held in an Israeli prison, having been convicted of five counts of murder for which he is serving 5 life sentences. At his trial, his defense was that Israel had no jurisdiction over him, though some of the murders were committed within what even the United Nations considers to be part of the State of Israel.
Barghouti is unquestionably a terrorist. Hamas is unquestionably a terrorist organization. Hamas, apparently satisfied to see a terrorist as president of the P.A., has announced that it is not running a candidate in the presidential election.
The other Palestinian who appears to be a candidate is Mohammed Dahlan, who is far less popular than Barghouti among Palestinians. Dahlan is the former Security Minister of the P.A., but since has had a falling out with Abbas. Originally from Gaza, he was forced out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007 and then out of the West Bank after a bitter battle with Abbas’ followers. He now lives in Dubai. He was convicted in absentia by the P.A of corruption charges, sentenced to several years in prison, and his conviction registered with the P.A. Justice Ministry. Because of his criminal record, the P.A. has announced that he will not be allowed to participate in the 2021 elections. While Dahlan would be more acceptable to the West than the other candidates, even if he is allowed to run, he is unlikely to win.
If the person who is elected as President of the P.A, is a terrorist, it raises the question of what the ramifications might be. Western countries both in Europe and North America are likely to disavow him. Will they continue to give money to the P.A. or UNRWA? Will the countries that have recognized the “State of Palestine” continue to do so? Will the United Nations continue to allow the State of Palestine to have “nonmember” status at the U.N.? Will the proponents of a two-state solution, including the Europeans, the J-Streeters, and the foreign press, finally realize that Israel has no partner for peace in the P.A.?
If the elections are held, it is my hope that people in the West will start to realize that the issue is not Israel v. the Palestinians, but Israel v. the terrorists and Shia Iran. Maybe they will even figure out that we are not the bad guys. That can only help Israel.