The upcoming Palestinian elections - analysis

The question remains: What are the reciprocal commitments between Israel and the Palestinians with regard to the holding of elections to the Palestinian Authority?

PALESTINIAN CENTRAL Election Commission workers register citizens in preparation for May elections, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, in February. (photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
PALESTINIAN CENTRAL Election Commission workers register citizens in preparation for May elections, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, in February.
(photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
The upcoming Palestinian elections may be seen to herald some element of a return to democracy in Palestinian governance, after a 15-year lull during which the Palestinian leaders – Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, respectively – ruled autocratically, without enabling what should have been regular periodic elections.
However, the prevailing and ongoing ambiance of hostility between the Palestinian leadership and Israel poses some serious dilemmas for Israel in the face of the upcoming Palestinian elections. This, especially in light of their refusals to cooperate with Israel in security and civil spheres, their continuing incitement to, and encouragement of acts of terror against Israelis, and their support and encouragement of international sanctions and boycotts, – all in violation of the central commitments by the Palestinian leadership in the Oslo Accords.
Their attempts to delegitimize Israel within the international community, including through referring allegations of war-crimes against Israeli leaders and military commanders to the International Criminal Court, is a particularly noteworthy factor in dampening any bona fides toward them among the majority of Israelis.
Some commentators in the Israeli media, while acknowledging that the democratic process of electing Palestinian leadership and government institutions is an integral part of the Oslo Accords to which Israel is committed, also stress the fact that the Palestinian also have commitments under those accords, commitments that are being systematically ignored or violated.
In referring to the involvement of Hamas in the elections, many feel that Israel should adopt a position strongly opposing Palestinian elections in which Hamas participates, and not permit a terrorist movement to participate in the elections.
In regard to the conduct of the elections in east Jerusalem, some commentators believe that following the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israel should not permit erosion of this status by allowing its Arab residents to participate in elections, the outcome of which would likely be to strengthen the Palestinian determination to obstruct any possible return to a negotiating mode and to sabotage the ongoing process of normalization with Israel by Arab states.
The question remains: What are the reciprocal commitments between Israel and the Palestinians with regard to the holding of elections to the Palestinian Authority?
In the still valid 1993-5 Oslo Accords, Israel indeed committed itself to enable “direct, free and general political elections” both for the Palestinian Council as well as for the head of the Palestinian Authority. This is set out in Article III of the 1993 Declaration of Principles (Oslo 1) and Annex II to the 1995 Interim Agreement (Oslo 2).
Article II (1) of Annex II to the agreement, on the issue of “Right to Vote”, determines that “The right to vote will be universal, regardless of sex, race, religion, opinion, social origin, education or property status.”
THE ONLY exception to the above, as set out in paragraph 1(k) of the same article, refers to persons disqualified from being entered on the Electoral Register due to judicial sentence or decision or psychiatric reasons.
Nominations of candidates, parties or coalitions may be refused and canceled if they advocate racism or “if they pursue the implementation of their aims by unlawful or non-democratic means.”
While there is no explicit provision in the Oslo Accords prohibiting participation in the elections process by “terrorist movements” as such, it may however be assumed that any party – Hamas and Fatah included – the official platform of which advocates unlawful or non-democratic realization of its aims – may indeed be refused by the Central, or District Elections Commissions of the Palestinian Authority, which oversees the elections.
Clearly, the Hamas charter advocating the usurpation of Israel through terror, as well as its acknowledged terror activity within, and emanating from the Gaza Strip, could and should certainly serve as a factor in disqualifying Hamas from participation in the elections.
While both these parties participated in the previous elections, the present circumstances, and especially the radicalization of Hamas and its internationally acknowledged terror activity, could represent a factor in persuading the new US administration, the Middle East Quartet, the EU as well as individual European states, to coordinate the necessary action to prevent participation by Hamas in the elections.
With respect to east Jerusalem, Annex I to the Declaration of Principles determines that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have the right to participate in the election process. Pursuant thereto, the Elections Annex to the Interim Agreement (Article IV) details arrangements regarding campaigning, polling, international observation and voting.
The question – both for Israel, as well as for the US administration and for the other countries that consider themselves “stakeholders’ in the Israel-Palestinian dispute – remains the dichotomy between welcoming any movement toward democratic governance among the Palestinians on the one hand, but at the same time, actively preventing participation in such elections by the Hamas terror movement.
Such participation could undermine the integrity of the elections and place further doubt on any possibility of advancing the peace negotiation process.
The writer is an attorney and ambassador (ret.), director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs and head of the international law program at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and member of Mivtahi Israel – Forum For a Safe Israel (FFSI).