Palestinians absorb the new reality

Liberals are coping with jokes and betting Hamas will moderate.

mashaal 88 (photo credit: AP)
mashaal 88
(photo credit: AP)
The results of the Palestinian elections continue to reverberate throughout the occupied territories with a surprisingly positive reaction, even from many liberal circles. It is now widely acknowledged that Palestinians were fed up with corruption, and this goes a long way toward explaining the electoral success of Hamas. Palestinian Authority Attorney-General Ahmed al-Moghani said last week in a well-attended press conference that 25 officials have been arrested so far and the PA would seek the extradition of 10 others who have fled abroad.
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The press conference strengthened the feeling of Palestinians that many financial discrepancies have been taking place over the past years without any accountability. The talk about some $700 million that was stolen from the Palestinian people did little to help even the attorney-general himself. Even though both Hamas and some of the young leaders of Fatah praised the prosecutor for investigating these cases, the talk of the town was why this issue was made public only after the elections. The official line of the investigators was that they didn't wish to be seen as influencing the voters by coming out with this issue on the eve of the elections. The public didn't seem to buy this claim, but rather believed that the success of Hamas on an anti-corruption platform is what led to this revelation. Many of those welcoming the Hamas victory were also hoping that there would be an immediate reduction in corrupt behavior. But in a post-election conference, organized by Amin Network and held in Ramallah, on the media's role it was revealed that most of the Hamas TV spots concentrated on corruption in appointments for government positions. The politicians' interference in appointments, often referred to as wasta, apparently has continued after the elections, with many of the losing candidates (who had to resign their government jobs before running) being reappointed and, in some cases, promoted in a last-ditch flurry of hiring corruption before Hamas takes over the PA government. PART OF the post-election discussions concentrated on the election law, in which 50% were elected proportionally and 50% from local districts. A polling expert speaking at the Ramallah conference said that a number of Fatah candidates should be given a medal by Hamas for rejecting Mahmoud Abbas's desire for a 100% proportional representation system. If that was the law of the elections Hamas might have gotten a few more seats than Fatah, but overall Fatah and its independent and left-wing coalition partners could easily have formed a majority government. A change in the election format would have resolved a major problem for Fatah. Having so many Fatah candidates run as independents (because they were not chosen to be on the official roster) meant that thousands of votes for the district seats were wasted. In Jerusalem, Bilal Natashe, a Fatah leader, told me that the lost votes amounted to a total of 37,000 - more than enough to have resulted in all Fatah candidates to win. In Bethlehem Fatah received more votes on the national lists, but still lost all their district seats except those earmarked as part of the Christian quota. Surprisingly, the tiny Palestinian Christian population doesn't seem to be panicky because of the victory of the Islamic movement. In Bethlehem and Ramallah the Christian mayors of those cities were already voted in with support from fellow Hamas council members. In Gaza the single seat allotted for the Christian citizens didn't go to the Fatah candidate, but to an independent supported by Hamas. The situation in Gaza has been reversed in many other ways. The consecutive assassinations by Israel of Fatah's Aksa Brigades leaders seem to portend a trading of places with Hamas, whose fighters are still abiding by the unilateral tahdiya (period of quiet) which all agreed to in Cairo and which officially ended at the beginning of the year. With Hamas trying to show a more moderate face and talk about Hamas respecting previous PA agreements (while saying they hope to renegotiate them), it appears that Fatah's fighters have more reasons now to attack Israelis. Palestinians are watching the post-election discussions rather calmly. For the time being, liberal Palestinians are dealing with the victory of the conservative Hamas with little more than jokes. Behind this jokes is an expectation, or hope, that Hamas politicians will be shaped by a stark reality they did not have to face in the past. This, along with Hamas's fear of being voted out in the next elections, is reassuring Palestinians that whatever happens will be an improvement. As many people are saying, it can't get much worse. The writer is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah.