Municipal Elections in Palestine Would Restore National Project
By: Hamada Faraneh Translated from Al-Ayyam (P.A.).
Palestine, and the West Bank in particular, must hold municipal elections. The imperative to do so is not merely national, political or legal; rather, it flows inevitably from the realities of Palestinian life.
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Palestine needs municipal elections to restore legitimacy to its political leadership. Hamada Faraneh argues that, especially in light of a ban by Hamas on presidential and parliamentary elections, the polls would do much to reinvigorate the Palestinian Authority — even at the national and international levels.Publisher: Al-Ayyam (P.A.)
Municipal Elections to Lift Up the National Pluralism Project
Author: Hamada Faraneh
First Published: August 30, 2012
Posted on: September 6 2012
Translated by: Al-Monitor
Categories : Palestinian Authority
First, Palestinian society, its political class, factions and parties need to be energized and shaken up in order to break out of their current passivity, despair and the closed political horizons stretching out before the Palestinian national movement. The obstacles in front of both of its wings, in the West Bank and Gaza, are increasing. The handicaps are weighing down the Palestinian national project as a whole, due to the superior force of the occupier, as are the weakness of Palestinian society and the paucity of its options. Meanwhile the latter grows more divided and fragmented, wholly unable to draw any benefit from the pluralism it was blessed with.
Therefore, the Palestinian community stands in need of a catalyst to get it moving and bring it to life, all the way down to the nitty-gritty details. The institutions of civil society need fresh blood. They need a steady stream of young leaders capable of winning over voters and their loyalties, thereby renewing the legitimacy of the organs of civil society and, foremost among them, local towns. Whenever municipalities win their legitimacy through the ballot box by producing elected local leaders, they are best equipped to strike a balance in society and push toward meeting their communities' need for local leadership. Indeed, satisfying that need ties local struggles to the larger, national struggle to protect the land, repudiate the settlements and bring about the end of the occupation as a prelude to independence.
Under the hegemony and domination of the occupation, local communities and their leaders have played a vital political role in deciding the battle for intra-Palestinian representation in the PLO's favor at the summits of Algiers and Rabat in 1973 and 1974. Were it not for the position of Rashad Shawa, Elias Freij, Fahad al-Qawasmi, Muhammad Milham, Bassam Shaka, Karim Khalaf, Abdul Jawad Saleh and other leaders of the Palestinian national movement, the PLO would not have won the right to act as "the sole, legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people.
Today, the PLO, the Palestinian Authority, and their factions — who have by now mostly turned into government employees — as well as their solemn struggle must go into the streets and renew their relationship with the street and with their people. Especially after so many of them have lost touch with the daily, gradual, and militant work with the people and among the people, as they confront the occupation.
In order for local elections to act as a means to renew the civil, democratic struggle, new blood must be pumped into the veins of political life. This is necessary to retain legitimacy as long as the armed struggle has ceased and the presidential and parliamentary elections are blocked by an edict imposed by Hamas. And this edict, let it be remembered, was imposed upon all Palestinian factions, including Fatah, and was crafted to meet their terms and suit their desires to reject presidential and parliamentary elections.
Second, municipal elections provide a distinct opportunity to highlight the fundamental difference between the Hamas's authoritarian monopoly of administration of Gaza, and Fatah's coalition administration, an approach which imbued it with strength throughout the history of the PLO. Years after the era of the Palestinian National Authority and after the Hamas coup in Gaza, the two now form a national coalition government in Ramallah. This coalition government is led by a national, independent figure, along with Fatah, the Democratic Front, the PPSF and a wide range of independent figures. This broad national coalition, characterized by the PLO and its forces, is truly representative of the people, rather than merely an assembly of influential officials.
The virtue of Fatah is their reliance on this coalition, while the drawback of Hamas is they do not believe in and do not provide this option, which always requires renewal and ballot boxes. One of the reasons that the Palestinian people punished Fatah at the polls in 2006 was the fact that Fatah failed to hold legislative elections from 1996-2006.
Thus, in order to push back against Hamas's coup, do away with exclusivist politics and renew legitimacy — despite being unable to conduct presidential and legislative elections — municipal elections can act as a compensatory measure. They can demonstrate that Fatah and its national alliance are still grounded in legitimacy won at the polls, and there is no other road to the renewal of this legitimacy but that runs though the ballot box.
Third, municipal elections can be used to confront the occupation, expansionistic projects and policies that undermine the Palestinian Authority and sap its legitimacy before the international community. In the absence of armed resistance to compel the occupier to deliver the basic requirements of life, liberty and the right to self-determination, Palestinian society and its national movement, as well as their various factions, figures, and institutions must go to the polls. They must do so in order to preserve the legitimacy of the Palestinian establishment, and the legitimacy of its demands, and its holding sway over the choices of Palestinians, their desires, interests and aspirations. This cannot take place but through the ballot box. The most realistic opportunity on hand to select representative, national institutions in the face of the expansionist, colonial occupation lies in local elections. They can act as a tool and means to address renewing and maintaining legitimacy.
In addition to all of these benefits of successfully producing duly elected local leadership, it will open up new horizons for the PA's efforts, for its relations with the Arab states and the international community, yielding further financial support and political attribution for institution building on the ground.
A visitor to the Hebron Municipality and its institutions and playgrounds, as well as to the city of Ramallah and its facilities, can show the extent of what patriotic local figures achieved for their towns and their people. This qualified and enabled them to extend the circle of people under their care, seeking to meet the aspirations of the people as a whole. The experiment has been transferred and we have benefited from our relations with the Europeans, the Japanese and peoples from other countries of the world who understand both the suffering of the Palestinian people under occupation and their need for development and progress as preparation for independence.
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