Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Palestinian Elections Could Solidify the Peace Post-Vote Negotiations Will Be on a More Equal Footing

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Palestinian Elections Could Solidify the Peace Post-Vote Negotiations Will Be on a More Equal Footing

Article excerpt

WITH Palestinian elections scheduled for Jan. 20, the Arab-Israeli peace process is about to cross a critical threshold that will most likely involve the inauguration of Yasser Arafat as the Palestinian president. Israeli and Palestinian opponents of the peace process are coming to recognize that there is no turning back from a free and fair Palestinian election. Though it will be some time before the possibility of a peace-process reversal can be ruled out entirely, in less than two weeks hopes of turning back the process will be far less realistic.

On the ground, electoral preparations have been going on for months, with European Union officials serving in an advisory capacity. Over 1 million Palestinians may be eligible to vote, and the days remaining before the election will provide little time for anything but a rudimentary campaign as individuals and groups rush to get their message out to the people.

For the Palestinians, the new 89-member council will provide a political forum for leaders besides Mr. Arafat, perhaps lessening his dominance of the political debate. If Palestinian democrats like Haider Abdel-Shafi, Hanan Ashrawi, and Faisel Husseini gain greater influence, the pressure for human rights and openness in the West Bank and Gaza would increase. Such voices could provide an important counter-pressure to Israeli security demands that often translate into human rights violations and crackdowns in areas under Palestinian control.

Though many of the council members are likely to be longtime Palestinian activists, the election also could serve as a platform for the development of a new generation of leadership, a healthy development for any society.

Of course, for Palestinians, the greatest consequence of the elections will be the legitimization of the Palestinian leadership, the unique stamp provided by electoral success. In internal and external relations, the Palestinian leadership will be able to act with a higher degree of authority. Moreover, opponents of all kinds will have a much harder time challenging the entire Israeli-Palestinian peace process that began with secret talks in Oslo in the summer of 1993.

For Likud and the Israeli right, an elected Palestinian leadership raises the costs of freezing or rolling back the peace process, greatly reducing the viability of such an approach. For a host of economic, military, and political reasons, no Israeli government can afford to alienate the United States and the European Union, not to mention the Arab countries who have begun to establish ties with Israel. …

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