- Created: Thursday, 30 April 2009 14:48
- Written by Bob Shepherd
Hamas’s landslide victory in the elections to the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) is, as Hamas political leader Mahmoud Zahar put it, ‘a big slap to the Americans and Israelis’. With Fatah rapidly dissolving into warring factions and Sharon’s stroke leaving the Zionists effectively leaderless, Bush’s roadmap is now hopelessly discredited. All that imperialism can do for the moment is threaten to starve the Palestinian people into submission by withholding aid until Hamas abandons the armed struggle and recognises Israel. Bob Shepherd reports.
In electing Hamas the Palestinian people have shown that despite more than five years of terror that have accompanied the latest Intifada, they remain unbowed. Their defiance, their refusal to roll over and do imperialism’s bidding, has rocked imperialism back on its heels. It was not just a vote against the corruption of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) – it was a resounding vote against occupation. Despite the daily terror of the Israeli occupation, and their almost complete international isolation, the Palestinian people showed they will not give up their national aspirations and kneel down to the interests of Zionism and imperialism. They have delivered a major blow to imperialism as its strategy in the Middle East continues to unravel.
Both Bush and Blair were staggered at the scale of Hamas’s victory. Blair stated that Hamas must decide ‘between a path of democracy or a path of violence’ while Bush argued cynically that ‘if your platform is the destruction of Israel it means you’re not a partner in peace, and we’re interested in peace’. Mahmoud Zahar clearly answered their hypocrisy: ‘We are under occupation. The Israelis continue aggression against our people; killing, detentions, demolitions. In order to stop this we are entitled to self-defence by all means including using guns. If the Israelis stop their aggression, we will be committed to the calm-down’.
In all Hamas won 76 out of 132 seats on the Legislative Council: 46 out of 66 directly elected regional seats as against Fatah’s 16, and 30 out of 66 distributed according to the votes won by national lists. Fatah ended up with a mere 43 seats in all. The call by Islamic Jihad for a boycott of the election did not seriously affect the turn out, which was estimated to be about 74%.
Imperialist commentators have tried to present the result as merely a no confidence vote in Fatah and PA corruption in order to minimise its significance. Hamas of course made these issues central in the election. But there was also Hamas’s welfare record: its organisation of social welfare, schools, universities and hospitals especially in Gaza. Whilst Fatah and PA leaders creamed off millions of dollars of aid that flooded in after the 1993 Oslo peace agreement, the mass of the Palestinian people sank further into destitution. For many, Hamas’s social programmes were what kept them from starvation. For hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, Fatah and PA corruption was clearly payment for services rendered to imperialism: aid had created a completely parasitic and dependent bourgeoisie whose only interest was to sell their national rights to imperialism.
The elections had gone ahead despite widespread calls for them to be postponed or abandoned. Such calls came not only from the imperialists and Zionists, but also from sections of the ruling Fatah movement, clearly worried at an early stage about the level of support they would command in the new PLC. In an act of naked intimidation, both the US and the EU threatened to suspend financial support for the PA if Hamas ended up in government. Israeli troops established at least 400 checkpoints and roadblocks in the run-up to the election and imposed severe restrictions on the movement of candidates throughout the West Bank and on Palestinian communities isolated between the ‘Green Line’ and the Apartheid Wall. Candidates were also banned from travelling between the West Bank and Gaza.
The Zionists also tried to undermine the legitimacy of the elections by threatening to prevent the quarter of a million Palestinians living in East Jerusalem from taking part. The response of Mahmoud Abbas was to suggest that if this happened then the elections should be cancelled. Hamas, whilst supporting the right of East Jerusalem Palestinians to vote, insisted that the election should go ahead regardless. As it was, on 15 January, just ten days before the elections were due to take place, the Israeli government agreed to allow limited campaigning in East Jerusalem, but banned any campaigning for election lists attached to resistance groups. This was of course a futile attempt to prevent Hamas gaining support. Candidates from both Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine were arrested in East Jerusalem in the run-up to the election. The election procedure for citizens of East Jerusalem was to be the same as it was for the 2005 presidential election: they had to go to one of five post offices to cast their votes. The purpose of this exercise was to enable the Zionists to describe this as a postal vote since they do not recognise any Palestinian rights in Jerusalem.
Fatah – squabbling over the crumbs from imperialism
Fatah, which has dominated Palestinian politics since the end of the 1960s, was riven by division in the run-up to the election, principally between the ‘old guard’ associated with Oslo and Arafat, and the ‘new guard’ including the leadership of the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (AMB) which has played a leading role in both the first and second Intifadas. The ‘old guard’, which had controlled the PA since its inception was determined to continue excluding the ‘new guard’ and retain its access to wealth and privilege.
Indicative of this were Fatah internal elections last November to agree their candidates. The ‘old guard’ largely ignored the results and placed itself at the head of the Fatah election list. This led in early December to a split in Fatah with rival election lists being presented. One, put forward by the ‘new guard’ and calling itself the Future Bloc, had Marwan Barghouti at its head, and included his wife and Mohammed Dahlan, the former PA Civil Affairs Minister. The official Fatah list put forward by Abbas also opportunistically had Barghouti at its head. The Future Bloc’s inclusion of Dahlan, a millionaire widely accused of corruption, clearly showed that there was no fundamental class difference between the two sides, and that the dispute was solely over which set of individuals would get access to the PA’s finances. Although Fatah eventually presented a unified list, in many places Fatah members who did not make the official lists stood as independents. The resultant split in the Fatah vote helped Hamas to its overwhelming victory, particularly in the regional seats.
The squabbles between the factions continued throughout the election campaign. Sections of AMB occupied offices of the Central Election Commission in Gaza calling for the elections to be cancelled, as their representatives had not been put on the national Fatah list. In the West Bank the AMB in Nablus threatened to disrupt and stop the voting: ‘Neither the PA, Fatah, nor Hamas has done anything for the Palestinian people as we witness daily Israeli occupation forces incursions and assassinations, without anyone providing protection to the Palestinian people, so on what grounds are we holding the elections?’ asked Ala Sanakra, leader of the AMB in Nablus.
Hamas’s political strategy
For Hamas the elections provided an opportunity to follow up its success in the municipal election and gain a level of national representation that reflected its support on the ground.
Hamas is clearly evolving and it adapted its strategy and political programme to maximise its electoral chances. For instance, it suspended military attacks on Israel during the election period. All the rocket strikes on Israel from Gaza during this time were carried out by Islamic Jihad, AMB and the Popular Resistance Committees. This was a complete change from September when Hamas was in the forefront of such attacks. According to one Hamas candidate, ‘the policy is to maintain the armed struggle but it is not our first priority. We know that first of all we have to put more effort into resolving the internal problems, dealing with corruption, blackmail, and chaos. This is our priority because if we change the situation for the Palestinians it will make our course stronger...Hamas is looking to establish a new political strategy, in which all Palestinian groups will participate, not just dominated by Fatah. We will discuss the negotiation strategy, how can we run the conflict with Israel but by different means.’ (The Guardian 12 January)
Another Hamas candidate, Aziz Dweik, from the West Bank city of Al Khalil (Hebron), said Hamas had no choice but to moderate its political language: ‘Eventually we will have to distinguish between the ideological and the political’. He added Hamas recognised the need to show ‘political responsibility’ and ‘moderation’ once it reached parliament. When it was clear that Hamas had an overwhelming victory Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told the BBC ‘don’t be afraid, Hamas is an aware and mature movement...which is politically open in the Palestinian...and the international arena.’
Hamas and the Palestinian people are now under renewed pressure to ‘win international acceptance’ – that is, to capitulate. In imperialism’s world, where aggressors become victims and victims aggressors, US, British and Israeli politicians queue up to condemn Hamas as terrorists whilst ignoring the root cause of the violence – Zionist occupation. The US intends to suspend $400m aid; EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says that Europe will also halt hundreds of millions of dollars in aid unless Hamas recognises Israel’s right to exist. With Abbas isolated and his Fatah organisation disintegrating, imperialism has lost the principal vehicle for representing its interests amongst the Palestinian people. That this has coincided with Sharon’s incapacitation merely compounds its problems. As the Palestinian people stand against their persecutors, we need to intensify our solidarity work in this country.
Victory to the Palestinian people!
A report put out by the Palestinian National Information Centre on 16 January showed that since the Palestinian Resistance agreed to the calm-down at Sharm el-Sheik on 8 February 2005, Zionist forces had:
• killed 168 Palestinians
• wounded 1,199
• arrested 3,998
• erected 4,538 roadblocks
• stolen 35,344 dunums of land (9,000 acres).
On 28 December 2005 Israel declared the setting up of a buffer zone inside Gaza along its northern border with Israel. The zone extends 3.5km into what is supposed to be Palestinian territory and stretches from the Mediterranean Sea past the Eretz border crossing. Although it is home to some 600 people, the area is now subject to regular artillery shelling and air strikes as the Israelis attempt to deter rocket attacks. On 31 December two Palestinians sat in a field 2km from the northern border were killed by Israeli tank shells, and a third severely injured.
FRFI 189 February / March 2006