Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Palestinians Voting to Elect New Parliament

This is interesting. From The Washington Post:

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan. 25 -- Palestinians across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip voted Wednesday in brisk, breezy weather to choose their first parliament in a decade.

A Palestinian man casts his ballot in Palestinian Parliamentary elections at a polling station in the West Bank City of Nablus Wednesday Jan. 25, 2006. Amid tight security, Palestinians cast ballots in their first parliament election in a decade Wednesday, an historic vote integrating Islamic militants into Palestinian politics and determining the future of peacemaking with Israel. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)

There were no reports of significant problems, either as the result of Israeli security measures or factional rivalry that had threatened to disrupt voting in several cities.

A supporter of the Fatah movement chants slogans and waves party flags after polling stations closed for the Palestinian elections in Gaza City January 25, 2006. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

[Exit polls released shortly after the voting was completed suggested that the governing Fatah Party was leading but that the Hamas party had registered a strong showing, the Associated Press reported. A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Public Opinion showed Fatah with 42 percent of the vote and Hamas with 35 percent. A second one by Bir Zeit University showed Fatah with 46 percent and Hamas with nearly 40.]

A Palestinian woman shows her ink-covered finger after she voted at a polling station in Gaza City January 25, 2006. Palestinians voted in a parliamentary election on Wednesday in which the Islamic militant Hamas group is challenging the Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

In an initial assessment made before the 1,000 polling stations had closed, international election observers said the vote appeared to be unfolding without serious problems.

Palestinian election workers count votes at a polling station in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 25, 2006. No party is likely to win a majority of seats in the new Palestinian parliament, making it theoretically possible that Hamas could form the next government, a leading pollster said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

So it seems that the Palestinian election has gone on, without any major problems or disruptions. That is a good sign. But the results are especially interesting. Depending on which exit poll you want to go by, the Fatah Party has around a five percent lead over that of the Hamas Party. Hamas has been around for years--mainly as a terrorist organization attacking Israeli and American targets in the Middle East. What is especially interesting is that Hamas has reorganized itself from a terrorist organization into a viable Palestinian political party, that is giving Fatah a run for its money in these first elections.

But now, look at what the U.S. response to this election is:

Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, is competing in its first national elections. It has built its popularity in the occupied territories over the years through patient political organizing, charitable work and an unyielding position regarding Israel, which it refuses to recognize.

It remains to be seen how much influence a large Hamas parliamentary bloc could have, but Israeli and U.S. officials warned that its presence in government could undermine diplomatic initiatives and undercut foreign aid. The Bush administration spent $2 million in the campaign's closing weeks to increase the popularity of the governing Fatah party, hoping to slow Hamas's momentum through a program that bore no evidence of U.S. involvement.

The secular-nationalist Fatah movement is suffering from a reputation for corrupt, ineffective government, although the executive branch will remain in the hands of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and the party leader. But Fatah, which has dominated the Palestinian national movement for four decades, is preparing to lose a share of its power to Hamas, which holds sharply divergent views regarding a peace process with Israel, internal reform and the role of Islam in public life.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (front L) visits a polling station in Al-Eizariya, on the edge of Jerusalem, January 25, 2006. Palestinians voted on Wednesday in their first parliamentary elections in a decade, a ballot that could bring the militant Islamic movement Hamas into the government for the first time. About 900 foreign observers, led by Carter, were monitoring the process. REUTERS/Mahfouz Abu Turk

In addition, here is a the Bush administration's response to the following election. This is from Yahoo News:

After voting ended,
President Bush said Washington would not deal with Hamas unless it renounced violence against Israel. "Not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you," he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Israel's response to the elections is also in the same Yahoo News story:

Though the election appeared likely to turn on internal issues, the results will have deep implications for peace efforts with Israel. If Hamas joins the government, it would be expected to ask for service ministries — health, education and welfare — and to leave diplomacy to others.

Israel says it will not deal with Hamas until it disarms. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that if a solution to the conflict cannot be reached through peace talks, then Israel will take more unilateral steps like last year's Gaza withdrawal.

"Anyone who participates in this government must renounce terrorism, must abandon the path of terrorism, must abandon incitement and the culture of hatred (and) must disarm the terrorist groups," Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin said.

Hamas' top candidate, Ismail Haniyeh, said the group had no intention of laying down its arms after the elections as Abbas said he expects.

So, U.S. is saying that a large Hamas presence in the Palestinian government could undermine diplomacy, and reduce foreign aid? Is the U.S. and Israel saying they don't want to deal with a Hamas bloc in the Palestinian government, and is willing to reduce foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority if a Hamas bloc does take power in the government? Is the U.S. and Israel willing to put diplomatic pressure to make sure that Hamas is not represented in the Palestinian government--even though Hamas is showing a 35-40 percent vote count in this first election? Because if that is what I'm hearing, then both the U.S. and Israel are trying to interfere with this first Palestinian election. And if the Palestinians believe that their election results are based on fraud and manipulations by the U.S. and Israel, this will take the peace process back by several decades--and you can bet that Hamas and perhaps other radical Palestinian political groups will restart the intifada against Israel. And the U.S. certainly can't afford to have violence erupting in the Palestinian territories, as American forces are also fighting an insurgency in Iraq. The best thing that the U.S. and Israel can do is let this election play out, and then deal with whatever government the Palestinians choose in their election. They may choose not to deal with the Palestinian government, which will delay the Mideast peace process. But any attempt to try to change the election, or subvert this democratically-elected Palestinian government will be disastrous for both the U.S., and Israel.

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