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(photo credit: AP [file])
Ten days ago a fax was received from the Al-Aqsa Brigades in Jenin recommending that international observers of the Palestinian elections stay away. Two weeks ago a Nablus hotel owner where the observers intended to stay was threatened if he hosted them. Less than three weeks ago an Italian aide to a European parliamentary delegation was kidnapped in the Gaza Strip and released hours later.
While such threats may put off most people from doing their jobs, the international election observers - some of whom arrived as early as November and many more who will arrive this weekend - are staying put and their observers continue to work in all 16 electorate districts.
The key, said Michael Murphy, country director of the observer mission of the US-based National Democratic Institute, is to know if the threat is real. In an accusing interview with The Jerusalem Post, Murphy suggested that leaders in the Palestinian Authority are behind the recent chaos in the territories.
"All the threats and kidnappings have been of a political nature," said Murphy. "It appears that they are saying that international elections observers are not wanted here. But we want to understand beyond that."
Murphy said that the threats might be aimed to "stop the elections" from taking place. "But for the most part people are looking for jobs, security, or to get even with someone."
Like the other international missions, NDI, which is working together with the Carter Institute, is not deterred by the threats.
"We will not play into the hands of those trying to stop the elections," said Murphy accusingly. "If that's the intent we are not going to subscribe itâ€¦There are always people who oppose that they are going to lose power that they have grown accustomed to. The democratic process means you have to be accountable. The greatest resistance comes from those who have profited from the current regime. They don't want elections they want appointments. So outside of ballot box stuffing people use intimidation. Our observer missions are used to that."
The observer missions are using diplomacy to dispel threats. When the owner of the Palace Hotel in Nablus was threatened if he hosted the observer missions, Murphy met with the governor of Nablus, the head of the Palestinian police and the hotel owner.
"We resolved it and the threat disappeared," said Murphy. "It is possible to negotiate. That's the name of the game. In a transitional democracy there are all kinds of things going on all the time. It's not like polling in England."
Ten days ago a fax arrived from the Al-Aqsa Brigades in Jenin, saying to the observer missions "We are sorry to tell you that you must leave Jenin as soon as possible."
"We were able to make an assessment that we did not have to make any changes and our observers stayed," said Mathias Eick, spokesman for the European Union's observer mission. The EU mission has 136 short-term observers arriving this weekend to make a total of 186 in the country by Sunday. Some 50 European members of parliament and their staff will be arriving next week to make it the biggest observation mission with a total of 236 observers.
The missions are doing security assessments on a daily basis. "That's a way of preventing us from panicking," explained Murphy. "A way of stepping back and looking at the situation."
The EU said it's prepared for all possibilities. "We have plan A, plan B, plan C, plan D - and we will use them given the situation when the time comes," said Eick. His mission has two security consultants making the assessments.
In the end, though deployment will be decided the day before the January 25th elections - particularly for Gaza. "If no one says anything and there's calm - as much as there can be in Gaza - we will seriously consider putting our monitors in Gaza," said Murphy. "But we won't put any one in harm's way.