b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    September 26, 2005 Edition 35                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian elections
. Inclusion means progress        by Ghassan Khatib
For opposition groups to enter the elections is to change their political positions and behavior.
  . Weighing the alternatives        by Yossi Alpher
It's not as if Israel and Palestine are on the verge of a comprehensive peace agreement and only Hamas is in the way.
. Divide and conquer        an interview with Ali Jarbawi
Israel prefers Palestinian infighting so as to always be able to claim that the Palestinians do not deserve a political settlement.
  . Recognizing Hamas is irresponsible        by Yossi Beilin
That this military organization, appearing as a political party, is allowed to abuse democracy is a prize for terror.

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Inclusion means progress
by Ghassan Khatib

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's repeated assertions that he opposes Hamas' inclusion in parliamentary elections and will not facilitate the holding of these elections should Hamas participate, have only one practical effect. That is to play into the hands of Hamas, which can present itself as the Palestinian faction facing the maximum amount of hostility from the enemy.

But Sharon's position might have been more effective, and consequently more detrimental to the Palestinian Authority, had it been echoed and supported by the international community. The statement last week by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after a meeting of the Quartet members in New York did not endorse this position, leaving the impression that Sharon's is an isolated Israeli position that does not register internationally.

>From a Palestinian perspective, one of the main objectives of holding these elections is to include organized and influential opposition groups within the political system. In addition to widening the representation of Palestinian political and social trends in the body politic, this will also automatically involve a commitment and adherence by these opposition groups to democratic parameters; i.e., the abidance of the minority to the rule of the majority, respect for law and order as embodied by the political system, and the acceptance of the laws and international commitments of the PA.

For these opposition groups to enter the elections is to change their political positions and behavior. It would constitute an implicit acceptance of all the PA's international commitments including signed agreements such as Oslo, which is the legal framework that created the authority for which elections are held.

There have been several signs recently of a willingness by the opposition to move toward political positions closer to the PA, including the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the borders of 1967. The current ceasefire, no matter how fragile, is another such sign, as are the recent direct and indirect contacts opposition groups have held with some western states.

The inclusion of the opposition groups within the PA will certainly strengthen the Palestinian side and increase its international credibility. This might be among the reasons why Sharon opposes such a development. The continuity of what the international community considers terrorism, however, will provide Sharon with the necessary arguments and excuses to carry on with his strategy of unilateral actions. These include the consolidation of the occupation in the West Bank, especially Jerusalem; the measures that are distorting Palestinian society and hindering its development--such as the extensive restrictions on the movement of people and goods and the disintegration and cantonization of different parts of Palestinian territory; the continued and illegal building of the wall; and the expansion of settlements.

It is important that the international community prevent Sharon from disturbing the democratization process, especially elections and the general process of development within Palestinian society. The continued democratization of Palestinian society--with democracy's necessary principle of inclusion--as well as social and economic development, are necessary to increase commitment to and faith in a negotiated solution.- Published 26/9/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

Weighing the alternatives
by Yossi Alpher

Israel's move to bar Hamas from participating in the Palestinian elections next January 25 almost certainly can only make a bad situation worse. Jerusalem should stop threatening to interfere.

The facts of this affair are plain. They are discouraging no matter how you look at them.

First, Hamas does not recognize Israel, and maintains an armed militia and a terrorist infrastructure. Hence, under the Oslo accords and the roadmap it should not be running in the elections. Israel is entirely within its rights to make this demand. Second, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) does not intend to disarm Hamas prior to the elections; given the fragile nature of the Palestinian Authority and its security arms, he is in any case probably unable to do so. For better or for worse, his leadership style is to co-opt, not confront.

One can of course question Abu Mazen's wisdom. His own Fateh movement is corrupt and in disarray, and the PA barely functions. Under these circumstances he is practically handing Hamas an electoral achievement. But were he to be persuaded to back out of his commitments to Hamas things could well get worse, not better. And all the alternatives to Abu Mazen's leadership appear, from the Israeli standpoint, to be worse.

Third, in view of Hamas' popularity, and bearing in mind its willingness to participate in the electoral process, its elimination from the contest (as Israel demands) effectively means no elections, and certainly no credible elections. Alternatively, it means credible elections in Gaza, where Israel can no longer interfere with Hamas' participation, but not in the West Bank. If the Israeli goal is to use the elections as a means of separating Gaza politically from the West Bank in order to weaken the chances for a viable Palestinian state, then it is shooting itself in the foot, since the absence of even the hope of a viable Palestinian state increases the danger that in the long run Israel will be unable to maintain itself as a viable Jewish state.

Hamas, for its part, is not likely to disband its armed forces and radically alter its charter merely in order to participate in elections. Here and there in recent years we have indeed encountered hints of initial moderation among Hamas spokesmen, but these slightly softer positions on issues like a peace treaty with Israel are still far from the problematic negotiating positions even of Fateh, not to mention Israel's basic requirements for ending the conflict. Indeed, in his ceasefire agreement with Hamas in March in Cairo, Abu Mazen accepted Hamas' version of the "right of return", which is even more demanding than that of Fateh.

In other words, it's not as if Israel and Palestine are on the verge of a comprehensive peace agreement and only Hamas is in the way.

Fourth, the United States and the Quartet do not agree to ban Hamas from the elections. Here Israel encounters weighty issues that go far beyond the Palestinian situation. In the name of participatory democracy, President George W. Bush's Arab reform policies are actively enfranchising radical Islamist parties with armed militias: in Iraq, where they form the government; in Lebanon, where Hizballah now holds government ministries; and now, potentially, in Palestine. When you ask senior American officials where this is leading, they express optimism that democracy is the best system and enfranchisement the best way to persuade Islamic radicals to modify their policies and disband their militias. In the Palestinian case they reject outside interference in Abbas' electoral format. Many moderate Palestinians, incidentally, take exactly the same positions, adding that they are confident Fateh will still emerge from elections as the largest party, and that Hamas' participation will contribute to stability and an eventual toning down of its radical positions.

In Israel and elsewhere, as we observe the growing chaos in Iraq and the close relations between Iraqi Shi'ite parties and Iran, and as we note the Lebanese government's inability thus far to disarm Hizballah and remove its forces from the southern border, many of us are extremely uneasy with this direction in US democratic reform policy. Be that as it may, Jerusalem's demand regarding Hamas puts it in potential confrontation with Washington. As Palestinian election time approaches, the US is likely to pressure Israel to desist from obstructionist tactics in the West Bank, thereby raising American-Israeli tensions at a delicate time for Israel.

Abu Mazen has surprised us thus far by making good (to a large extent) on a ceasefire and facilitating disengagement. In choosing cooptation over confrontation he has made a virtue out of his weakness. True, his government is so weak that he is not a convincing partner for peace. But then again, neither is our own prime minister.

In any event, can we really now second-guess Abu Mazen and tell him that we know better than him what's good for Palestinian democracy? Will Hamas' electoral participation, or the lack thereof, really make the difference between having a Palestinian partner for peace and not having one? Of course, enfranchising Hamas will officially award it a certain radicalizing influence over Palestinian policies. But hasn't that been the unofficial case thus far, with a powerful Hamas kept out of the system?- Published 26/9/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

Divide and conquer
an interview with Ali Jarbawi

bitterlemons: Israel has come out strongly against Hamas running for the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. Why?

Jarbawi: I think Israel does not want the Palestinian political system to be shaped in a way that might pose problems for Israel in the future. Right now, the Palestinian political scene is dominated by one faction, Fateh, and Israel can pursue its political track with the Palestinian Authority with that in mind. If the PLC is composed of different factions and different blocs and starts questioning what the executive authority is doing especially on the peace process track, the parliament might block developments Israel would like to see take place.

Another factor is that Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization and Hamas is widely considered as such in the world. Israel is trying to take advantage of this perception to crack down on the movement because Israel is concerned about the future intentions of Hamas.

bitterlemons: Isn't Israel just strengthening Hamas by opposing its candidacy? Won't that make Hamas more popular if the elections are held? Jarbawi: This is a third factor in Israel's opposition. Israel doesn't want the elections to take place at all. If Israel cracks down on Hamas now--although it may give Hamas more credibility at the moment--it could simply lead to the elections not being held on January 25.

Today [September 25] Israel arrested over 200 people in the West Bank, mainly from Hamas. With what's happening in Gaza, it could lead to a situation in which the PA will declare it cannot go on with elections, even though President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday said the elections would take place as planned.

bitterlemons: Doesn't that leave the PA in a very difficult position? If elections aren't held won't that seem a little too convenient for Fateh?

Jarbawi: Yes, but how can you have an election if Hamas cannot participate because most of its leaders are in prison? Hamas itself might not want an election under these circumstances. I think the PA is in a very precarious position concerning what is happening on the ground right now between Hamas and the rest of the factions and Israel. The PA cannot claim that it has authority and can bring stability to the people. Its credibility is eroding.

bitterlemons: Should Hamas disarm before running for elections?

Jarbawi: Well, it is not just Hamas that's armed. Fateh and its militias are armed and in fact all the factions are armed. What Abbas is trying to do is correct in principle. If you want a unified strategy for how to deal with Israel, you need to bring all of these factions into the political system. Participation in the political system is the key to reaching a unified strategy concerning arms, resistance, and all other items on the Palestinian agenda. I don't think the problem in the security, administrative, and financial spheres can be dealt with without a political solution, and that solution is to widen the participation in the political system. This is what Abbas is trying to do and this is why these elections are very important.

I think Israel opposes Hamas running because it does not want this widening of the political system. Israel does not want the Palestinians to reach a unified position. Israel prefers Palestinian infighting so as to always be able to claim that the Palestinians do not deserve a political settlement, that Gaza is first and last, and they cannot end the occupation in the West Bank and Jerusalem because the Palestinians cannot reach consensus among themselves. It's a divide-and-conquer policy.

bitterlemons: If elections are not held what will that mean?

Jarbawi: I think not holding the elections this past July was a mistake. Not holding them in January will be a bigger mistake. I think the current deterioration comes as a response to Israel's vocal opposition to Hamas' participation. I think Hamas is very interested in participating and if elections are not held, the internal as well as the external situation, i.e., the situation with Israel, will deteriorate. - Published 26/9/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Ali Jarbawi is a professor of political science at Birzeit University in Ramallah.

Recognizing Hamas is irresponsible
by Yossi Beilin

The Oslo agreement was signed in 1993 on the basis of a mutual agreement that political negotiations would replace the use of force. An exchange of letters between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin ensured mutual recognition between the two sides in accordance with this agreement. Negotiations over two years then led to an interim agreement, signed on September 28, 1995, that enabled elections to be held for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

There was concern at the time lest parties not obligated by the Oslo principles would seek to participate in the elections. The principal worry was Hamas. In order to ensure that such parties do not participate in elections and do not abuse the democratic process, it was determined that "The nomination of any candidates, parties or coalitions will be refused, and such nomination or registration will be canceled, if such candidates, parties or coalitions (1) commit or advocate racism, or (2) pursue the implementation of their aims by unlawful non-democratic means."

There can be no doubt that participation by Hamas in elections held in the Palestinian Authority in January 2006 is a gross violation of the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement. Hamas is a movement that has, through its covenant, raised the banner of incitement to hate and kill Jews. That this military organization, appearing as a political party, is allowed to abuse democracy is a prize for terror and violence.

In a world seeking to combat terrorism and still looking for the right way to do it, it would be surprising indeed if Israel, paradoxically, were to acquiesce in the legitimization of a terrorist organization under its very nose, while the world encouraged it to do so and even encouraged and held secret contacts with that organization. The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza genuinely strengthened Hamas; now its integration into the Palestinian political system would crown it as the most important Palestinian organization.

The leadership of the Palestinian Authority is not integrating Hamas enthusiastically, but out of necessity. Now, with the end of the intifada, the PA is weakened, much of its infrastructure destroyed, and it is unable to act forthrightly against Hamas. Since PM Ariel Sharon demands that the PA fight terror while withholding the means to do so, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has been impelled to reach a ceasefire with Hamas. In return for Hamas' agreement to a ceasefire, Abu Mazen has agreed that the organization can participate in the PA's political system by means of elections.

Instead of assisting the PA to fight Hamas, as it did in 1996, and instead of insisting on invoking the relevant provision of the interim agreement in order to prevent Hamas' participation in elections, the government of Israel remained silent for many months. It was only a few days ago that Sharon finally declared he would "not assist" the holding of elections in the PA if Hamas participated. For Sharon, invoking the Oslo agreements is apparently so abhorrent that he avoided the simplest and shortest way of preventing Hamas from participating in elections.

Israel is paying a heavy price for this policy. By now it is too late to declare that we will not recognize the Palestinian bodies chosen in January because Hamas is participating in the elections: the ceasefire depends on this participation, and we have no interest in canceling it. Now that Israel's silence has facilitated the legitimization of Hamas in Europe and the United States, we apparently cannot admit our mistake. Hamas' entrance into PA institutions is liable to cast a veto on future peace moves, without eliminating the option of violence. I certainly hope and pray that the situation we have gotten ourselves into under the direction of Sharon and Shimon Peres is simply a case of folly rather than a premeditated step intended to prove that there is "no one to talk to".

For long years we conditioned the PLO's entry into negotiations with Israel on the demands for an end to terrorism and acceptance of UNSCR 242.Ultimately these conditions were adopted. Awarding legitimacy to Hamas unconditionally, while that organization continues to embrace its lunatic covenant, is an irresponsible act on our part. There is a debate as to whether Sharon has turned to the left or adheres to his old ways. Indirect recognition of Hamas is not part of a turn to the left; rather, it faithfully maintains a policy whose primary characteristics are superficiality, instinctive responses, and shooting from the hip.- Published 26/9/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Yossi Beilin is chair of the Meretz-Yahad Party.

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