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Palestinian Elections Pointless Under Israeli Occupation

Talk of Palestinian elections creates the illusion that Palestinians are in charge of their destiny, but the real power ultimately lies with Israel, writes Rana Baker.
A Palestinian woman looks for her name on voter lists put up on a wall inside a school in Gaza City February 11, 2013. The Palestinian Central Election Commission (CEC) began on Monday registering voters in Gaza and the West Bank for an upcoming election that is hoped to help with healing nearly six years of political rifts among rival factions.  REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa (GAZA) - RTR3DMRA

An estimated 300,000 individuals in the Gaza Strip have registered to vote in the allegedly forthcoming elections. Many, however, have done so only to make clear their opposition to the entire electoral process. Those who registered but are not going to vote will affect the turnout rate, thus making their point. Individuals willing to boycott the elections, should they actually take place, constitute a small minority, but their motives are worthy of examination.

It is important to bear in mind that "Palestinian elections," with the current geographical designations, i.e., Gaza and the West Bank, are in fact not "Palestinian" at all. That is, how can they be Palestinian, let alone legitimate, when the vast majority of the Palestinian population will be excluded? In other words, the Palestinian majority is scattered in the diaspora, including the Arab world, and will be denied participation in determining the future of their country, which here means historical Palestine.

Excluding the Palestinian majority from future elections will effectively compromise their right to be represented, thus reducing the number of recognized Palestinians, and in effect Palestine too, from more than 11 million to a few million "residents" in Gaza and the West Bank.

As a consequence, the right of more than 6 million Palestinians, forcibly evicted in 1948 and 1967, to reclaim their lands and property as stipulated in UN Resolution 194 will not be vocalized by the "elected" leadership. This is one reason why the current Palestinian leadership is deemed illegitimate by millions of Palestinians. In addition, it is unclear whether Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, the presumed Palestinian capital according to the internationally accepted two-state solution, will be allowed to participate in the elections.

Despite this, many Palestinians view the elections as a step forward, toward changing the declining political and socioeconomic status quo. Those who have been crushed by the Palestinian Authority's neoliberal policies in the West Bank and Hamas' nepotism in Gaza see in the elections the prospect for improved conditions.

The question of whether change is possible in light of Israel's stranglehold on borders, exports and imports, travel, education, and even the issuance of Palestinian birth certificates often falls to the wayside. This is not likely to change under a newly elected government no matter how faithful it is to the people.

The imbalance of power between the Palestinians and the Israeli government is essential to any discussion concerning change or improvement in Gaza and the West Bank. One must not forget that Israel has the monetary as well as political and military tools to suppress any Palestinian government that dares to deviate from the twisted path of the so-called peace process. Even Hamas has had to put down its arms at times and adhere to what sometimes looked like "talks" to many Palestinians.

Moreover, Israeli policies, which severely infringe Palestinian rights, are supported by the United States and other world powers. With no such support for the Palestinians, it is obvious how far any government is likely to get in securing independent decisions that favor the demands of the people.

Further still, Fatah and Hamas, as the largest Palestinian factions, are likely to win the vast majority of votes in any election. A third Palestinian party comprising independent nominees could bring about a change, but it appears there will be no such effort in the near future. Therefore, it is safe to assume that either Hamas or Fatah will hold power, yet again, with no real shift in political agenda.

Palestinians who oppose the elections and have decided to boycott them are usually asked to offer a viable alternative. Any government under an occupation functions as a puppet government, often benefitting the occupier more than the occupied. The Israeli government continues to blame the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for the misfortunes of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. This leads to confusion and divides the struggle of the Palestinians between those who channel their fight against the ruling regime and those who think that it is the occupation that the Palestinians must rid themselves of first.

Eliminating all political authority below that of Israel would reveal Israel's abuse of Palestinians' rights and force it to bear its obligations toward the people it occupies. This way, the fig leaf Israel uses to, for example, expand illegal settlements in the West Bank, will hide nothing.

With the Oslo Accords still in place, and the unlikelihood that a future government will have the power to rescind them, the lives of Palestinians will virtually remain in the hands of Israel, teetering between bad and worse, depending on the results of Israel's elections — not Palestine’s.

Rana Baker is a student of business administration in Gaza and writes for The Electronic Intifada.

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