The Palestinians: Who's Afraid of Elections?
Almost at the same time that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting in the White House with President Barack Obama last week, the Palestinian government surprised Palestinians by announcing that municipal elections, slated for July 17, have been called off indefinitely.
Abbas's government did not offer any explanation for its controversial decision. The election was supposed to be held only in the West Bank: not only had Hamas, along with several other radical groups, banned the election in the Gaza Strip, it had announced its intention to boycott it.
Many Palestinians who have condemned the decision as undemocratic and illegal say that the real reason behind the cancellation of the vote is Abbas's fear that his ruling Fatah faction would suffer a humiliating defeat.
Fatah seems to have good reason to be afraid to contest the vote.
Over the past few weeks, Fatah leaders failed to agree on the identities of the candidates who would represent them in the election.
Many Fatah members threatened to run as independents or as representatives of their clans -- one of the reasons Fatah lost the last two votes: the municipal election in 2005 and the parliamentary election in 2006.
The decision to call off the election should be regarded as an admission of failure on the part of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. It is also a blow to the US Administration's efforts to prepare the Palestinians for statehood.
The US, like the rest of the international community, continues to stick to the belief that Abbas and Fatah are credible peace partners who would one day be able to deliver a peace treaty to the Middle East.
But a party that cannot even hold a municipal election should not be treated as a real partner to anything.
Following Fatah's sixth general assembly in Bethlehem in 2009, some Western and Israeli political analysts started reporting how the faction has gone a long away toward reuniting and reforming itself.
The decision, however, to call off the municipal election in light of deep divisions in the faction proves that all the talk about Fatah "getting its act together" was nothing but wishful thinking.
Fatah continues to be dominated by most of the figures that were responsible for its defeat to Hamas in the last two elections. This is the reason why most Palestinians still do not trust Fatah. And this is the reason why Fatah is unlikely to win in any election, at least not in the foreseeable future. Those who are negotiating with Fatah as a peace partner need to absorb this fact.
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