A New Chapter Begins: Fatah Is Held Accountable and Hamas Reaps the Benefits. Mariam Shahin Reports from the West Bank on the Results of the Palestinian Elections and the Politicians to Watch as a New Era Is Ushered In
Shahin, Mariam, The Middle East
OVER ONE MILLION PALESTINIANS WENT TO THE POLLS ON 25 January and changed the course of history. By overwhelmingly voting in favour of an Islamist list of candidates they ushered in a new era. With 77% of eligible voters casting their ballots, the majority voted for the Islamist bloc that has dominated both municipal politics and the war with Israel in recent years.
The winning bloc, Change and Reform, is an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood movement (established in 1928 in Cairo) and its Palestinian political party, the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas. It, along with several leftist and nationalist parties, had not participated in the only other free legislative elections in the West Bank and Gaza, held in 1996, because they believed the framework for the elections, which was dictated by the 1993 Oslo Accords, was not legitimate.
By and large, Palestinians acknowledge that Hamas was long perceived as having been bolstered by indirect Israeli support in the early 1980s. At the time Israel sought to counter and offset the then popular nationalist and leftist groups belonging to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
It took more than two decades for Hamas to shed this image of perceived collusion with Israel and establish itself as a Palestinian Islamist group of good repute. Well organised and funded, the group is known for its almost Calvinist rigour and policies that give priority to social, medical and educational services for its adherents and would-be adherents. The poor of the camps and the increasingly disenfranchised of the Palestinian urban centres came to see Hamas as their pious saviour. Targeted by the Israeli's hit squads, helicopter gun ships and F16s, Hamas stuck to intermittent ceasefires but refused to accept the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and the existence of a Jewish state in historic Palestine. With the PLO having made historic compromises, which encompassed land concessions of more than 78% of historic Palestine to the Israelis, Palestinians needed someone who held the political "high-ground".
It must be said that most Palestinians were eager for peace, even at the high price that came with the Oslo Agreements signed by the PLO and Israel in 1993. Israel, however, failed to deliver and after five years (1996-2000) all that the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority (PNA) had to show for its historic efforts was a sharp decline in the standard of living in the Occupied Territories, an increasingly reduced share of the 22% of the landmass it sought, increased Jewish settlements in the West Bank, catastrophic economic agreements, no hope of attaining refugee rights and stalemate on discussions of Palestinian rights in Jerusalem.
Beyond the absence of Israeli soldiers in their cities, new postage stamps, flags and diplomatic decorum, showpieces of independence rather than true independence appeared to mark PNA rule.
Many of the independent government institutions that were set up and run by PNA ministries, while essential, were largely invisible to the average Palestinian. The PNA was given the extremely difficult task of creating structures--parallel ones in both Gaza and the West Bank--that normally evolve over decades. Technocrats and political appointees often had opposing visions on priorities and clashed, making concrete progress an ever more difficult task.
Bringing back some 50,000-100,000 people with him from exile in Tunis, Jordan and Iraq, the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, became fallible once he was again in the homeland. The PLO, "Tunis" chapter in particular, came to be seen as the usurpers of any benefits allocated to the newly established PNA. The "Tunisian" PLO, partnered with the small existing upper class, mostly merchants and business-people, established their state within the state. "Let them go back to Tunis", could be heard as early as 1997-98, from Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza who were shocked by the boisterous and arrogant leadership which "came home" after the peace agreements were signed. …