The upcoming Israeli and Palestinian elections
Feb 19, 2021 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
This Update offers analysis of the Israeli election campaign, with Israel now just five weeks out from a poll on March 23 – the fourth election in just two years. It also offers some new commentary on Palestinian plans to hold parliamentary elections on May 22, 2021, followed by elections for the presidency on July 31, 2021. Unlike Israelis, who have had too many elections of late, Palestinians have not voted since 2006.
We lead with a discussion of the one key issue in the Israeli election campaign from Shalom Lipner, a former official who worked in the Israeli PM’s office for many years. That one key issue is the handling of coronavirus, including not only Israel’s world-leading vaccine program over recent weeks, but also a variety of coronavirus-related government decisions and programs over the past year that are largely viewed negatively by the Israeli public. The handling of coronavirus is completely overshadowing other issues that might otherwise be important in this campaign, Lipner says, including PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, and the state of Israeli relations with the new Biden Administration in the US. For Lipner’s discussion of the implications of this, CLICK HERE.
Next up is Israeli political reporter and Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer, looking at a total of eight issues likely to decide the election’s outcome. Like Lipner, he says handling of the coronavirus pandemic is the most important of these, and argues that, at the moment, Netanyahu’s efforts to gain political support from the vaccination successes do not appear to be giving him the boost he had hoped for. He then explores other key issues, including the contests between opposition figures like Gideon Sa’ar of the New Hope party and Naftali Bennett of the Yamina party, uncertainty over whether certain parties will reach the electoral threshold of 3.25% of the vote, and how the unusually complex Arab Israeli vote will pan out, given the split in the predominantly Arab Joint List coalition of parties. For some key insights on what to watch in the lead up to March 23, CLICK HERE.
Finally, veteran Palestinian Affairs journalist Khaled Abu Toameh looks at Palestinian election plans through the prism of what happened the last time the Palestinians voted, in 2006. He said it was clear at that time that Palestinians were drawn to vote for parties that called for armed struggle and rejectionism directed at Israel, and predicts that the current election will be no different – if it goes ahead, which is of course not yet certain. He says the only way to change this situation is to end anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian media, in the mosques and from political leaders, and begin to educate Palestinians that coexistence with Israel is in their interests. For Abu Toameh’s passionate description of both the problem and the solution for Palestinian society, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- As alluded to in some of the articles below, controversially, Netanyahu recently engineered a merger between the far-right Religious Zionism party and the extreme right Otzma Yehudit party, which is led by a follower of the late racist extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane. Netanyahu then reached a vote-sharing deal with Religious Zionism. Here is a Jerusalem Post editorial highly critical of these political machinations, which could empower the racist right.
- Another good general fact-sheet of the state of the Israeli election campaign comes from BICOM. Meanwhile, Israel political analyst Haviv Rettig Gur explores why Netanyahu’s corruption trial is playing such a small role in this election.
- The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon on some question marks over the accuracy of Israeli political polls.
- More on the Palestinian elections and the motives for calling them after all this time, from strategic analyst Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Judy Maynard on what statistical studies are saying about the success of Israel’s world-leading vaccination program.
- A summary of AIJAC’s submission to a parliamentary inquiry into countering extremist movements and radicalism in Australia, written by Sharyn Mittelman.
- Oved Lobel explains how a Hezbollah cyberattack on an Australian company needs to be recognised as part of the growing cyber-threat emanating from Iran and its proxies.
- Video of AIJAC’s latest webinar, with top US foreign policy analyst Danielle Pletka, discussing the Biden Administration’s first few weeks – with respect to the Middle East and beyond. A short excerpt is also available in which Pletka argues that it is “unmitigated rubbish” to try to divide the Iranian regime up into moderates and hardliners with respect to Iran’s nuclear weapons project.
Israel’s upcoming election: A referendum on the handling of the coronavirus
by Shalom Lipner
Atlantic Council, Feb. 18, 2021
Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu is hoping Israel’s vaccine success story will overcome widespread dissatisfaction with the government’s overall handling of the coronavirus pandemic (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons | License details)
March 23 will see Israelis trek to the polls—for the fourth time since April 2019—after the close of an election campaign that has, thus far, entertained discussion of little else other than the coronavirus and its ramifications.
COVID-19 has earned singular status as a potential game-changer in Israeli political life. In a recent Israel Democracy Institute survey, only 24 percent of Israelis awarded a positive score to the incumbent government’s handling of the public health crisis, voicing even lesser approval for its measures to mitigate economic and social fallout from the pandemic. These numbers contrast markedly with the 57 percent and 48 percent of Israelis who praised their government’s performance in the realms of foreign policy and national security, respectively. Failure to curb the deleterious effects of the virus could deliver a coup de grâce to the career of Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-reigning prime minister in Israel’s history.
There have been approximately 5,500 COVID-19 fatalities in Israel, where more than 52,000 active cases are still being monitored among its population of nine million people. With the country emerging gradually from its third lockdown, it is Israeli citizens’ critical deliberation of their leadership’s fumbling response to the outbreak that has eclipsed attention paid to all additional items on a full national agenda.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared briefly in Jerusalem District Court on February 8 to plead not guilty to multiple counts of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. The high drama of that event aside, his indictments have been proceeding through the Israeli legal system for years already and have been the focal point of long-running protests. Israelis have had ample opportunity to formulate their views on whether Netanyahu’s alleged wrongdoing should disqualify him from serving as prime minister and, as such, the impact of his trial—which promises to continue long into the future—on voting patterns has been factored comprehensively into the results of the previous three ballots.
The advent of the coronavirus has also superseded debate of the extent to which President Joe Biden is recalibrating Israel’s premier alliance with the United States. It took Biden until February 17—almost a full month after moving into the Oval Office—to speak with Netanyahu, a fact not lost on watchers of the US-Israel relationship. That the prime minister’s challengers have not exploited this opening to lambaste his apparent “fall from grace” in Washington speaks, in part, to the public’s present disinterest in matters not related to the spread of COVID-19. Similarly, Netanyahu’s repeated postponements of his planned visits to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain suggest an understanding that a photogenic celebration of the popular Abraham Accords is equally unlikely to distract Israelis.
Vaccine injections seem to more central to Israel’s March 23 election than campaign ads or political rallies (Photo License details, Creator: Christian Emmer | Credit: emmer.com.ar).
Netanyahu, who regularly leveraged the political capital of his close bond with Biden’s predecessor in office, has been put on the defensive by the new administration, which has acted quickly to attenuate the force of—or even reverse—certain decisions of Donald Trump which Israel applauded. US moves to reinvigorate diplomacy with Iran and to renew America’s membership on the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council—renowned for its “disproportionate focus on Israel,” as acknowledged on February 8 by State Department spokesman Ned Price—have clarified that Netanyahu’s charms have been less than effective on the current White House. He bristled perceptibly after Secretary of State Tony Blinken issued an only tentative endorsement of Trump’s earlier recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. And, yet, Israel’s relations with Biden’s team continue to be a work in progress, which also contributes to Israelis withholding final judgment at this time.
Instead, what consumes bandwidth are practical questions of government mismanagement with respect to COVID-19 protocols. Israeli decision-makers stand accused of ignoring early professional advice to padlock Ben-Gurion International Airport—which was shuttered almost totally to traffic only in January—for purely political considerations. The same motive has been tendered as an explanation for what many have deemed to be the selective enforcement of lockdown restrictions.
Israel’s most prominent feat in battling the pandemic—the acquisition of many millions of vaccinations and the rollout of a coordinated, nation-wide effort to administer the injections— also appears to be losing steam. Three-quarters of Israelis have received at least one dose to date, but inoculation facilities are now operating below capacity as holdouts among the remaining one-quarter have resisted being immunized. Infection rates, which are showing signs of finally slowing down, had skyrocketed due to new and more contagious mutations of the virus which were imported unknowingly to Israel, challenging health care providers to keep apace.
With Election Day less than five weeks away and a full reopening of Israel likely to take much longer, members of the Netanyahu government are scrambling anxiously to balance the demands of the population for a return to “normal life” with the imperatives of ensuring everyone’s physical wellbeing. Approval was granted on February 9 for preschools and grades 1-4 to resume classroom study in cities where the disease has been brought under relative control. Another matter of great contention is a timetable for permitting commercial and cultural institutions to receive patrons once again, a stage scheduled to commence on February 21. The temptation is high for Netanyahu to declare “mission accomplished” before Israelis go to vote on March 23.
Hopes that Israel is on a fast track to recovery are substantiated by some relevant data, but Israelis are not out of the woods yet. Amid charges that the country lacks an effective exit strategy from its predicament, one senior medical advisor to Israel’s National Security Council has warned that it could soon be necessary to “choose between a fourth closure and a spike in serious cases and deaths.” For Netanyahu—who has not been shy about touting the success of his government’s vaccine program—either of those two outcomes could trigger his political demise.
Shalom Lipner is a nonresident senior fellow for Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council. From 1990 to 2016, he served seven consecutive premiers at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
From COVID to Corruption, Eight Issues That Will Decide the Outcome of the Israeli Election
From who wins the coronavirus narrative to whether Yair Lapid can break the 20-seat ceiling (and at whose expense), these are the key factors ahead of the March 23 Israel election
Haaretz, Feb. 17, 2021
A graphic representation of the predicted outcome of the election according to the most recent polls prepared by BICOM, with parties arranged according to their stance on serving in a Netanyahu-led government (Photo Credit: BICOM)
Benjamin Netanyahu gave a 32-minute interview to Channel 12 on Monday evening, his second television interview in four days. This isn’t how a Netanyahu campaign usually works. The prime minister’s strategy, ever since he returned to power in 2009, is to starve the Israeli media of interviews, sometimes for entire years, only to launch a blitz in the last week before an election. That way, the studios give him as much screen time as he likes to set out his agenda.
Monday’s interview with Channel 12’s chief news anchor, Yonit Levi, was no exception. Haaretz’s Noa Shpigel counted at least eight blatant lies in half an hour of prime time television. But with five weeks left to the March 23 election, why is Netanyahu coming out so early?
The answer is in the opinion polls. His Likud party has been stuck on 28-29 seats in the last six polls – and that’s the lower band of his polling radius, which hasn’t shifted from 27-32 seats for the past two months.
In other words, more than eight weeks after Israel began its successful vaccination campaign, and despite the clear signs that it’s already drastically bringing down rates of infection and severe illness in the over-50 age groups, it isn’t moving the needle in the polls.
For Netanyahu – who tried, with some success, to focus the interview, on Israel’s most popular news show, on the vaccination program – it’s one of the most crucial issues that could decide the election. But it’s not the only one.
The battle for the COVID-19 narrative
Netanyahu has a point. Thanks to the vaccinations, of which he was an early adopter, Israel is on track to emerge from the pandemic faster than other coronavirus-stricken countries. This hasn’t given him a boost in the polls so far because enough Israeli voters remember that his government over the past year failed for long months to provide adequate testing; failed at contact tracing; failed to close down Ben-Gurion Airport despite knowing the British variant was arriving from overseas; failed three times to prepare exit strategies for the nationwide lockdowns and didn’t enforce these lockdowns on the constituents of Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies. This is just a partial list of the Netanyahu government’s shambolic and hyper-politicized handling of the pandemic.
It may not be too late, though. Five weeks could be enough time to change Israel’s COVID-19 narrative – especially if between now and the election, there will be more good news about the vaccines’ effectiveness, and if the government’s plans to reopen the country are efficient and not waylaid by another outburst of infections.
Also, Netanyahu doesn’t need to convince everyone; just a few seats’ worth of voters who can be swayed in the closing stage of the campaign by shopping malls, restaurants and schools reopening. He’s relying on just 100,000 Israelis having very short memories.
The ‘French law’
One issue the opposition parties are not planning to waste much time on is Netanyahu’s ongoing trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The experience of the past three elections, and all the internal polling they’ve done, has convinced them that Israelis are convinced one way or another. Those who refuse to vote for a party that will sit in government with an indicted prime minister already made up their minds long ago.
But there is one aspect of the Netanyahu trial that could perhaps sway voters, and that is legislation he wants to pass that will grant a serving prime minister immunity from prosecution – the “French law,” named after the law that shields the president of France.
Netanyahu’s own pollsters believe that even some of his own potential supporters who aren’t that bothered about the allegations of corruption don’t want to see him evade trial. That’s why Netanyahu spent two minutes on Monday evening strenuously denying he has any such plans and insisting that the case against him “would collapse of its own accord.”
The chances of proceedings resuming in Jerusalem District Court before the election are now slim. However, if the judges decide to go ahead and call the first witness for the prosecution in the next five weeks, it could have an effect. If that happens, Netanyahu has already prepared his base-rallying campaign that this would constitute “blatant political intervention” by the judges.
The ultra-Orthodox factor
According to one survey, 61 percent of Israelis, including a hefty chunk of right-wingers, say they don’t want to see the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism in the next government. Yet only two small opposition parties, Yisrael Beiteinu and Meretz, are targeting Netanyahu’s Haredi partners.
So far, Netanyahu’s two main rivals, Yair Lapid and Gideon Sa’ar, are not ruling out cooperating with the ultra-Orthodox parties in some form. They’re concentrating their fire on Netanyahu and only hinting at his alliance with the Haredim by promising a “sane government” (Lapid) and a “stable government” (Sa’ar).
They’re not just keeping their future options open. They also have polling which indicates that while most Israelis would prefer the next governing coalition not include Shas and UTJ, they still feel uncomfortable with a campaign that seems to single them out. However, as the election nears and both party leaders try and maximize their votes, they may start to be a bit more explicit – especially Lapid.
The Lapid ceiling
Lapid’s Yesh Atid has established a clear polling lead over Sa’ar’s New Hope of about four seats. But even its best polling results give it no more than 19 seats, still a distant second to Likud. Nineteen, incidentally, is the best showing Yesh Atid ever had, in the first election it ran in 2013. Is Lapid’s ceiling of 20 Knesset seats unbreakable? And if so, even if Netanyahu fails to gain a majority for his right-wing bloc and Lapid heads the second-largest party, can he form a government?
The one time a premier succeeding in doing so with less than 20 seats was in 2001, when Ariel Sharon won the only Israeli election ever to be held for prime minister only. His landslide victory over Ehud Barak (62-38 percent) gave him a mandate, despite Likud holding only the 19 seats it had won two years earlier. Those were unique circumstances, and Lapid knows that with 19 seats, the best he can hope for is a “rotation” deal in which he will have to split the prime minister’s term with Sa’ar or Yamina’s Naftali Bennett (or both?).
Lapid has another problem. If he manages to break the ceiling and wins more than 20 seats, the extra votes will come at the expense of other parties from the anti-Netanyahu bloc. And if he pushes one or more of those under the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, Netanyahu’s bloc could end up winning a majority by default.
Slaves of the threshold
Thirty-nine parties registered to run in the election. Of these, only 14 have anything approaching a chance of crossing the electoral threshold. No fewer than six parties are hovering around the threshold. One of them, Yaron Zelekha’s New Economic Party, has failed to cross the threshold in all but one of the media polls conducted since its launch on December 30 and is expected to officially drop out of the race.
Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, which just a year ago was still the largest party in the Knesset, is just about scraping over the threshold in most polls. Gantz and his few remaining senior partners are, however, coming under increasing pressure not to jeopardize the anti-Netanyahu bloc and to bow out respectfully. Gantz’s decision is not expected until the very end of the campaign and will be influence by the polls. Either way, it could have a fateful influence on the outcome.
Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party wasn’t crossing the threshold until Netanyahu engineered a merger with the neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit and homophobic Noam factions. But even though they have now stabilized on 4-5 seats, they are far from safe as they rely on a disparate group of potential voters who have multiple other alternatives in right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties. If they fail to cross the threshold, it’s hard to see how Netanyahu gains a majority.
Then there’s the Islamist United Arab List, which broke away from the Joint List for this election and is generally polling below the threshold. However, polling in the Arab community is weak and Mansour Abbas’ party has its strongholds.
And, of course, there’s also the high-risk balancing act of Labor and Meretz on the threshold tightwire.
A graph of Israeli parties arranged on two key axes – policy on the Palestinians and what should happen to the West Bank (horizontal) and support or opposition to Netanyahu continuing as PM (vertical) prepared by BICOM (Photo Credit: BICOM)
Labor versus Meretz
Most of the candidates with a decent chance of making it into the Knesset on Labor and Meretz’s slates would have been equally comfortable in the other party. Increasingly, the same could be said of the two parties’ remaining voters. Three weeks ago, with Labor still officially in the Netanyahu government, it was sinking beneath the threshold and Meretz looked secure. On January 24, Merav Michaeli, who had refused to join the coalition, won Labor’s leadership election by a landslide and revived her party’s prospects. Now it’s Meretz on the brink.
In the polls, the parties – which both ran in joint tickets in the last two elections – have what looks like a joint reservoir of 10-11 seats (around 9 percent of the vote). But how to ensure they split them in a way that doesn’t drown one of them?
In what looks like a coordinated move, the parties (which have signed a surplus-votes agreements that only works if both of them cross the threshold) have taken opposite ideological tacks. Michaeli has been saying in interviews that she’s a “Rabinist” – a code word for pragmatic-centrist hawk – temporarily toned down her feminist rhetoric and has remained silent on the ultra-Orthodox. Meanwhile, Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz has ramped up the anti-Haredi campaign, is calling Israel’s occupation of the West Bank “apartheid” and, with the help of the two prominent Arab-Israeli candidates on its slate, has been aiming for the Joint List’s electorate.
It worked the last time Meretz and Labor ran separately, in the first of 2019’s elections, when they both inched over the threshold. Perhaps it can work again.
Yamina versus New Hope
Another pair of parties that are almost indistinguishable from each other are Bennett’s Yamina and Sa’ar’s New Hope. Both are right-wing parties promising to replace the old Netanyahu with a younger, less impressive but hopefully also less corrupt version of Netanyahu.
Both parties present a selection of politicians who would be perfectly at home in the other party. The only difference is that Yamina has a slightly higher proportion of religious candidates than New Hope, and that Bennett, while presenting himself as an alternative to Netanyahu, won’t rule out joining yet another Netanyahu government.
Based on the slight advantage New Hope has in the polls, Sa’ar’s strategy has wider appeal. And he may yet grow the party by a few seats, while Bennett’s stockpile of votes is more susceptible to being wooed home by Netanyahu.
But even if Yamina remains the smaller of the two parties, Bennett may be in a better position after the election, as he could possibly play kingmaker between Netanyahu and the anti-Netanyahu bloc. That’s why the standoff between these to parties could be crucial.
Netanyahu has no prospect in any of the polls of a coalition without enticing Bennett back into the fold. In a few recent polls, Bennett could complete Netanyahu’s Knesset majority (of over 60 seats). In most polls, though, even Bennett isn’t enough. If Sa’ar can take a couple of seats off Bennett’s party in the next five weeks, that will leave Netanyahu with no prospect of a majority. And Bennett won’t be able to play kingmaker. But if Bennett can hold onto the 11-12 seats and take one or two back from Sa’ar, he will have everything to play for. And so will Netanyahu.
The Arab enigma
The biggest question mark in this election looms over the Arab vote. A year ago, the community’s turnout – 64 percent – was the highest in decades, with almost 90 percent of them voting for the Joint List. Neither of those records is likely to be broken this time, with the Joint List split and “Jewish” parties ranging from Meretz to Likud making a serious effort to win Arab votes.
In the polls, Joint List is losing on average a third of the 15 seats it won last year, quite likely more. Some of these are votes likely to be lost if the United Arab List indeed fails to cross the threshold. They could also include the votes that will save Meretz or even give Netanyahu his missing seat for a majority. But a shrunken Joint List has other implications besides an extra seat here or there.
There was a clear anti-Netanyahu majority in the Knesset in the past two elections, but Netanyahu remained prime minister because that majority couldn’t translate itself into a workable coalition as the right-wingers in opposition wouldn’t cooperate with the Joint List. And even if they had, Joint List’s Balad faction may not have agreed either. A smaller Joint List could actually mean a greater chance of replacing Netanyahu.
Palestinians: What Real Education Means
by Khaled Abu Toameh
Gatestone Institute, February 16, 2021 at 5:00 am
- The result of the 2006 election showed that a majority of Palestinians fully supported Hamas’s call for ending corruption in the Palestinian Authority, imposing Islamic law and, most importantly, continuing the armed struggle against Israel.
- Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. It seeks to replace Israel with an Islamic state.
- Palestinians did not buy Fatah’s talk about ending corruption: they saw how Fatah’s leaders had enriched themselves after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars that were lavished on them without a shred of accountability by the US, the European Union and other Western donors.
- The reason that Fatah, unlike Hamas, did not talk about the “liberation of all of Palestine” or promise to launch an armed struggle against Israel is because its leaders were afraid that the US and EU would halt financial aid to the Palestinians.
- Any Palestinian, like Fayyad, who runs in the election on a platform that talks about peace and coexistence with Israel will lose.
- Real education starts at home, not necessarily in the classroom…. Palestinian leaders need to tell their people that Israel has the right to exist. They need to tell their people that peace and normalization is good not only for Israel, but also for the Palestinians. They need to tell their people that cooperation with Israel is better than boycotts.
- Under the current circumstances, in which anti-Israel sentiments are at an extreme high, one wonders whether it is a good idea to proceed with the plan to hold new elections. They are certain only to strengthen the radical camp among Palestinians even further.
The 2006 Palestinian elections, pictured, offer some lessons for plans to hold the first Palestinian since then later this year (Photo Credit: USAID, Copyright: USAID, License details)
The last Palestinian parliamentary election, held on January 25, 2006, resulted in a victory for Hamas, the Islamist movement controlling the Gaza Strip. The next parliamentary election is scheduled to take place on May 15, 2021, although the parliament, known as the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) was elected for a four-year term.
The Hamas victory in 2006 triggered a bitter dispute with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, effectively paralyzing the PLC and creating two separate mini-states for the Palestinians — one in the West Bank and another in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas won the 2006 vote mainly because its candidates ran as part of a list named Change and Reform Bloc.
The slogan of the list was: “Islam is the solution; one hand builds, the other resists.” The Hamas list, in its election program, promised to combat all forms of corruption and “make Islamic law [sharia] the main source of legislation in Palestine.” The Hamas list, in addition, pledged to “use all methods, including armed resistance” against Israel.
Because of these promises, Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats of the PLC. Its rivals in Fatah received 45 seats.
The result of the 2006 election showed that a majority of Palestinians fully supported Hamas’s call for ending corruption in the Palestinian Authority, imposing Islamic law and, most importantly, continuing the armed struggle against Israel.
Hamas justified its decision to participate in that election by arguing that it was in the context of the Islamist group’s “comprehensive program to liberate Palestine.”
The winning message Hamas sent to Palestinians back then was: Our participation in the election does not mean that we recognize the Oslo Accords and Israel’s right to exist. This is just one step toward achieving our goal of liberating all of Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. It boycotted the first parliamentary election in 1996 on the pretext that the vote was being held under the umbrella of the Oslo Accords, signed three years earlier between the PLO and Israel.
Hamas remains opposed to the Oslo Accords because it does not believe in any peace process with Israel. After all, how can Hamas accept any peace process when its charter openly calls for the annihilation of Israel?
Hamas, whose logo is pictured above, has not changed its rejection of any peace with Israel since 2006 – and is likely to be popular with Palestinian voters precisely because of its rejectionism, thanks to Palestinian educational failures (Photo: License details)
The political program of Fatah also promised to “completely end all forms of corruption and abuse of power.” Fatah, however, did not promise to launch an “armed resistance” against Israel or impose Islamic law “as a main source of legislation in Palestine.”
Palestinians did not buy Fatah’s talk about ending corruption: they saw how Fatah’s leaders had enriched themselves after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars that were lavished on them without a shred of accountability by the US, the European Union and other Western donors.
Although Fatah used harsh anti-Israel rhetoric in its election program, many Palestinians nevertheless preferred Hamas. The reason that Fatah, unlike Hamas, did not talk about the “liberation of all of Palestine” or promise to launch an armed struggle against Israel is because its leaders were afraid that the US and EU would halt financial aid to the Palestinians.
All Fatah said back then was that the Palestinians were “entitled to resist the occupation in accordance with international conventions.”
Again, vague talk about anti-Israel “resistance” was not sufficient to convince a majority of Palestinians to vote for Fatah. Had Fatah specifically mentioned “armed resistance” in its election program, it would have succeeded in attracting the support of more voters.
Another list that contested the 2006 election was named Third Way. The list was headed by Salam Fayyad, who has a PhD in economics from the University of Texas at Austin. Fayyad’s list won only 2.41% of the vote in the 2006 PLC election. Fayyad went on to serve as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority from 2007 to 2013.
Why did the Third Way yield little success? Unlike most of the candidates on the Fatah and Hamas lists, Fayyad was not involved in anti-Israel terror activities; mainly, he never spent a day in an Israeli prison. As far as many Palestinians are concerned, it is more important if one graduates from an Israeli prison than from the University of Texas at Austin.
Fayyad’s election program focused on the need to “end security anarchy and the chaos of weapons, build strong and professional security forces and implement a reform plan” in PA institutions.
Fayyad, in other words, promised to dismantle the armed gangs and militias roaming the Palestinian streets and make sure that the Palestinian security forces operate in accordance with the law. Evidently, these promises did not appeal to the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians.
Palestinians who did not vote for Fayyad’s Third Way list were actually saying that they oppose the disarmament of the armed groups of Fatah and Hamas.
If Fayyad chooses to run in the May 22 parliamentary election with the same message, it is unlikely that he will receive many more votes than he got in 2006. Indeed, it is entirely possible that he will receive fewer votes than he did then. Any Palestinian, like Fayyad, who runs in the election on a platform that talks about peace and coexistence with Israel will lose.
How can any candidate who runs on a ticket that promotes normalization and peace with Israel win at a time when Palestinians are being radicalized against Israel (by their leaders) on a daily basis? How can any candidate who did not spend time in Israeli prison win at a time when Palestinian security prisoners are being glorified by Palestinian leaders as “heroes“?
Can any candidate stand in the center of Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians, and talk about promoting peace and normalization with Israel? Any candidate who did so would be lucky if he or she was not denounced as a traitor – or worse.
The only way to climb out of this cesspool is through education. Real education starts at home, not necessarily in the classroom. Real education starts with what parents communicate to their children. Real education starts with what a child sees and hears in his or her home environment. Real education starts with what leaders and the media tell the children.
The daily anti-Israel incitement in the media, mosques and rhetoric of Palestinian leaders explains why there is no room for people like Fayyad in the Palestinian political discourse.
Palestinian leaders need to tell their people that Israel has the right to exist. They need to tell their people that peace and normalization is good not only for Israel, but also for the Palestinians. They need to tell their people that cooperation with Israel is better than boycotts.
Calling for all forms of resistance against Israel makes it impossible for advocates of peace and non-violence to win a Palestinian election. Proclamations by Fatah and Hamas that call for prosecuting Israelis for “war crimes” mean that most Palestinians will vote for any list that promises war, not peace, with Israel. The only candidates who are likely to win an election are those who incite violence against Israel.
Under the current circumstances, in which anti-Israel sentiments are at an extreme high, one wonders whether it is a good idea to proceed with the plan to hold new elections. They are certain only to strengthen the radical camp among Palestinians even further.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.