Now that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has finally issued the decree to hold Legislative Council elections, followed by elections for a PA president, and then elections for the PLO’s National Assembly, it is time to look at what Palestinians need to do to ensure that their voices are heard.
Less than 47% of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza support Fatah and Hamas combined, while a whopping 43.4% of the Palestinians do not support any of the existing Palestinian political parties. All of the other so-called “major” political parties combined have a measly 7.5% support among Palestinians.
Effectively, the largest political bloc of voters among Palestinians does not belong to any political party and, if it is going to be heard, it needs to support the establishment of a new and truly “independent” political party.
These numbers were extracted from the last comprehensive poll commissioned among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in September 2020. The poll was conducted by the highly respected Palestinian Research Center for Policy and Survey Research.
What do these numbers tell us?
One, the two major parties – Fatah and Hamas – garner a mere 25 and 21.6%, respectively, in support among Palestinians. That is a total of 46.6% of the voting population. Yet, Fatah dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas rules the Gaza Strip.
Two, the largest number among Palestinians, 43.4%, do not support any of the existing political parties. They are what I would refer to as the “true independents, or the silent majority.”
Three, in a presidential election for the PA, the results are determined by the person who is running for president and are not necessarily based on party affiliation.
For example, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas would beat Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah) by 52 to 39%. Yet, the jailed Marwan Barghouti (Fatah) would beat Haniyeh (Hamas) by 55 to 39%.
And, in a three-way election, Barghouti (Fatah) would get the support of 38.4% of the population vs. 36.1% support for Haniyeh (Hamas) and 19.9% for Abbas (Fatah).
Four, a clear majority among Palestinians (62%) want Mahmoud Abbas to resign.
Five, 62.4% of Palestinians view the PA as a burden on the Palestinian people; and 79.8% of Palestinians believe that there is corruption in PA institutions and in the Palestinian Authority itself.
Six, in an election (say for the Legislative Council of the PA) that pits Fatah against Hamas; Fatah would get 38% of the votes while Hamas would get 35% of the votes. In this question, only Fatah and Hamas were provided as choices.
Seven, prior to becoming prime minister, Mohammed Shtayyeh was never a serious contender for the PA presidency. Now, in a head-to-head contest between Shtayyeh (the current PA prime minister from Fatah) and Haniyeh (Hamas), Haniyeh would win by 51% vs. 40.5%.
Eight, the most important priorities for the Palestinian Authority should be, according to the poll, the spread of unemployment and poverty (27.3%), followed by the corruption in public institutions (24.7%) and followed by the continuation of the occupation and expansion of settlements (23.7%).
Nine, a majority of Palestinians believe that the best means to end the occupation are negotiations and peaceful popular resistance (50.1%) – not armed struggle.
Ten, 61.6% of those polled stated that given Israel’s settlement expansion, the two-state solution is no longer viable.
Given what we know from the poll above, is there room for a new, independent, political party among Palestinians?
The answer is a resounding yes. Close to 43.4% among the Palestinians are not affiliated with or are supporting any existing party. Independents or the disenfranchised, therefore, make up the largest chunk of the Palestinian population. Hence, there is plenty of room for a new independent political party.
If the new party wins a mere 30% of the popular vote – that would mean that it would then have more support than either Fatah or Hamas enjoy.
HOWEVER, IF an independent party were to succeed, it must meet certain criteria:
It must be a democratic party that respects the freedoms and rights of Palestinians (neither Hamas nor Fatah do).
One of its main goals should be to fight and eliminate corruption – a major complaint against the Fatah-run PA and the Hamas-run Gaza.
Its leader should be a popular individual known for his/her independence, integrity, political insight and clear vision to fulfill people’s aspirations. After all, people vote for people. Only those blinded by partisanship vote for parties – the herd/sheep mentality.
The party’s main task should be to ensure Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state (42.3% picked this goal as the most important one for the Palestinian Authority).
On the surface of it, this seems to contradict the view among 61.6% of the population that they no longer view the establishment of a two-state solution as a viable option. However, Palestinian’s disillusionment regarding the two-state solution emanates from the continual failed attempts to reach a peace agreement with Israel. And the idea of a confederation between the sovereign states of Israel and Palestine has not been adequately explored as a way to break the deadlock in negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
The establishment of an “independent” Palestinian party would face major hurdles at the institutional and popular levels. Neither Fatah nor Hamas have a vested interest in a party that could potentially wrest control of the fiefdoms they govern. It is not even clear that such a political party, if it won a majority of the popular vote, would be allowed to take control of the reign of governments in either the West Bank or Ramallah.
On a popular level, the previous attempts at forming independent parties have failed at attracting major electoral support. The Palestinian population have been accustomed to the rule of Fatah or Hamas and to break this hold would require people’s belief that if they vote for an independent party, their votes would not be a “wasted.” It will then come down to the leadership of the independent party to instill the firm belief that the time has come for a new, viable and effective leadership. Besides, judged by past actions and history, both Hamas and Fatah have failed miserably in advancing the cause of the Palestinian people.
In short, a new independent party – not affiliated with either Hamas or Fatah – is sorely needed at this historical juncture. The Palestinian people need to rise up to the challenge of confronting the existing failed political systems. The independent party needs to fill the void created by the people’s disillusionment with politics as usual. For the party to be successful it has to be democratic, respectful of Palestinians’ rights, tasked with eliminating corruption and negotiating Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories as well as the establishment of a Palestinian state, in a possible confederation with Israel.
The writer taught at Harvard University, where he was the associate director of its Middle East Institute. He was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based al-Fajr newspaper and served as a member of the Palestinian delegation on arms control and regional security.