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Many Palestinians have been trying over the past few days to draw parallels between the political crisis in Israel - triggered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's departure from his Likud Party and the subsequent decision to hold general elections next March - and the situation in the Palestinian arena.
The elections in Israel will be held exactly two months after Palestinians head to the ballot boxes to choose their representatives in parliament. This will be the second time since the signing of the Oslo Accords more than a decade ago that elections are held for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
"It's going to be a hot winter in Palestine and a hot spring in Israel," commented political analyst Hassan al-Batal, referring to the planned elections on both sides.
The political crisis in Israel comes at a time when Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is facing huge problems at home. Abbas's ruling Fatah party has been forced to postpone internal elections for the second time in recent weeks because of an ongoing power struggle between representatives of the young guard and veteran leaders who came to the Palestinian territories from different Arab countries.
Moreover, Abbas is facing growing criticism for failing to impose law and order and end financial corruption. The resignation earlier this week of Salam Fayyad, the widely respected finance minister, is seen as yet another sign of growing disenchantment with Abbas's leadership. Fayyad is reported to have criticized Abbas for mishandling the PA finances.
Such are Abbas's hardships that some of his top aides have begun hinting of a possibility that the parliamentary elections, slated for January 25, may be delayed until further notice.
"I don't think we are prepared for elections under the current circumstances," explained one of his advisers. "There are many problems that need to be resolved before we go the ballot boxes."
Although public opinion polls conducted by various Palestinian organizations have given Hamas only 20-30 percent of the votes, the feeling among many Palestinians is that the Islamic movement could be headed toward a landslide victory.
While Fatah has been unable to hold its primary elections because of ongoing tensions inside the party, Hamas has easily come up with dozens of lists of candidates for both municipal and legislative elections. And while rival Fatah groups and candidates are busy torching each other's cars and shooting at each other's offices and houses, Hamas operatives and candidates continue to work in harmony, staying away from internecine fighting.
"What's happening in Israel has been described as an earthquake or crisis or dramatic upheaval," notes prominent commentator Hani al-Masri. "And what is about to happen in Palestine may also be described as a kind of revolution in the Palestinian political map. The change could be for the better or the worse."
Masri believes the January elections are extremely significant because, for the first time, they will end the hegemony of Fatah over Palestinian affairs. "These elections will force the political system to change," he added. "The days when a single faction controlled the PA or the PLO will end. Pluralism will replace individualism."
WHETHER THE Palestinian elections are held on time or not, the consensus among Palestinian political analysts and top PA officials is that the latest political developments in Israel will undoubtedly put the "peace process" on hold for many months to come.
The Palestinians say that, judging from the experiences of the past, political crises in Israel, in addition to elections, have always pushed the "peace process" to the far margins for several months.
They are fully aware, for example, that there can be no talk about pursuing the roadmap for peace while Israel is in the midst of a political storm. Under such circumstances, Abbas is likely to find himself facing increased pressure to bring about real changes by fulfilling his promise to implement financial and security reforms.
"It's time to make some order inside the Palestinian home," says Hanna Issa, a specialist in international law. "The Palestinian cabinet has long been talking about restoring law and order, but the facts on the ground show that lawlessness and anarchy are continuing," he adds.
Some Palestinians say that since negotiations with Israel aren't likely to resume in the coming months, Abbas should now shift his attention to the Palestinians' internal problems.
"The year 2006 is gone because of the elections in Israel and the formation of a new government," says Yahya Rabbah, a columnist with the PA's daily al-Hayat al-Jadeeda. "The only thing we Palestinians can do is wait, but waiting is a very difficult task. Instead of just waiting, we must seize the opportunity to do something good for our people."
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