Those who think Israel’s politics are unwieldy should take a look next door at what is going on in the Palestinian Authority.
In the coming months, the Palestinians are scheduled to hold elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in May, the PA presidency in July, and the PLO’s national council in August.
The last vote for the PLC took place in 2006, when Hamas won, and the last election for PA president was in 2005, when Mahmoud Abbas was victorious. The operative word for these elections, however, is “scheduled” – while the deadline for registering lists for the PLC was on Wednesday, it is by no means clear whether those elections or the voting for a PA president will be held.
With the emergence of break-off parties from Fatah, there is speculation that Abbas might again cancel the voting – as he has done in the past – if only to prevent his party from taking a drubbing at the hand of Hamas, or even at the hands of breakaway factions of his own Fatah party. One of those parties is led by his arch-rival Mohammad Dahlan, and the other by jailed terrorist Marwan Barghouti and former PA foreign minister Nasser Al-Kidwa.
Israel has not yet charted a public position on these elections, and whether or how east Jerusalem Arabs will be able to participate. Nevertheless, if Abbas wants to call off the election for his own political interests, it is not beyond imagination that he will find a way to blame Jerusalem – a scenario for which Israel needs to be ready.
Another scenario that Israel needs to grapple with is if Barghouti is elected to the PLC, or even, if he decides to run, as PA president. Barghouti remains popular among Palestinians despite serving five life sentences plus another 40 years for his role in the murder of five people during the Second Intifada.
If elected, Barghouti will surely be cast as some kind of Palestinian Nelson Mandela being held unjustly in Israeli prison. Voices will be raised in certain pockets around the world calling on Israel to release the “democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people.”
That Barghouti – with whom Israel will clearly not deal as an interlocutor – is being touted again as a replacement for Abbas is symptomatic of a rigidity of Palestinian thinking that has served them so poorly in the past. If Barghouti is indeed elected, the Palestinians will have elected a symbol, rather than someone who can actually improve their situation.
Palestinian elections at this time could conceivably be a time of renewal, a time for stock-taking and new thinking.
It could be a time for the Palestinians to look around and realize that the international community, the Arab world, the region and Israel are not what they were 15 years ago. The train is steaming ahead and they need to alter strategy, because neither Hamas terror on one hand nor PA attempts to have the international community force Israel’s hand have worked.
Israel, too, must realize that the train is moving forward, and that the world is not on hold as it tries to get its own political house in order.
Elections in the PA – or even a decision not to hold those elections – are likely to kick-start international discussions on how to move the Israeli-Palestinian issue forward. And these calls are not only likely to come from the Jordanians, Europeans and Russians, but also from the Americans.
At a certain point in time, US President Joe Biden, already under pressure from Progressives in his party to take more active steps on the Israeli-Palestinian track, will begin to focus more attention on the Mideast. When that happens, Israel would benefit enormously having ready proposals and plans of its own, and not just reacting to what others are putting on the table. It will want to show Biden that it has its own ideas on how to move forward on the Palestinian issue.
To do that, however, it needs a government able to set goals and outline a vision. Yet another reason why Israel so desperately needs a permanent, functioning government.