Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Democracy Delayed in the West Bank

Posted in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East and North Africa by Dan on July 27, 2010

Hamas supporters celebrate their victory in 2006. Palestinians are still waiting for another election.

Palestinians in the West Bank were supposed to vote last week on a new set of local politicians.  To us Americans, municipal elections aren’t a big deal.  But for people who haven’t had a taste of democracy in years, just the slightest chance at waiting online to cast a ballot is an exhilarating experience.  For Palestinians- a people under persistent occupation, divided between two political factions, and separated in two geographical areas- this exuberance would have been even more fulfilling.

Sadly, those elections were cancelled by the Palestinian Authority, which argued that elections at the present time would have fragmented Palestine’s national identity and diverted attention away from the more pressing problem of Gaza’s humanitarian catastrophe.

Little do they know that Palestinian identity hasn’t been unified for quite a long time; Hamas and Fatah have been battling it out for the past four years.  1.5 million Palestinians are separated from another 2.5 million in the West Bank.  And if you want to get mired in technicalities, the Palestinians don’t even have a national identity.  The lack of a Palestinian state kicks the “national” right out the door.

Something else is at work here.  The cancellation had nothing to do with Gaza, and it certainly had nothing to do with efforts at unity.  Instead, fear of who would win and who would lose was most likely the culprit.  And in some strange way, the United States is partly to blame for Palestine’s increasingly authoritarian behavior.

Back in 2006, the United States encouraged Palestinians to come out and vote for their next national government.  At the time, it was an historic moment; the first elections since the death of longtime leader Yasser Arafat and the beginning of a new era in Middle East democracy.  But when the elections were over, and the winner was announced (Hamas), encouragement in Washington quickly turned into despair and disappointment.

The right thing for Washington to do was applaud the Palestinians for their trust in democracy- even if the U.S. didn’t necessarily like the results.  This positive response may have been able to serve as a precedent for further elections into the future.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration took the exact opposite approach. The same democracy that Washington trumpeted beforehand quickly turned into an embarrassment. Due to Hamas’ place on Washington’s terrorist list, the United States refused to declare the contest legitimate.  The U.S. dug itself deeper by not engaging Hamas at a low level, which would have at least shown Palestinians that the U.S. meant what it said about democratic institutions.

Four years later, what we have in the Palestinian Territories is a powerless legislative branch, a Palestinian President ruling by decree, and an authority that is divided internally between old-time technocrats and upwardly mobile moderates.

We are still suffering from that disastrous 2006 experience.  Just as the U.S. was afraid about the results back then, the P.A. is afraid about what’s on the minds of Palestinian voters today. Canceling the elections gives them more time to delay the inevitable.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Mustafa Barghouthi of the Palestinian National Initiative.  His article can be read at FP.com’s Middle East Channel**


13 Responses

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  1. Arvay said, on July 27, 2010 at 1:47 am

    the Israelis don’t really want a viable, prosperous Palestinian state on their borders. Whether they brandish the openly warlike types such as Netanyahu or send out the grandfatherly Peres to coo insincerely about peace, they always find every Palestinian group unacceptable.

    The US “support” for democracy would be more laughable if it didn’t have such serious consequences. We support the dictatorial rule off Egypt’s Mubarak, just as we supported the Shah of Iran and many other dictators who will further our “interests.”
    If hypocrisy and double-talk were underarm odor, the rest of the world would have long ago headed for the exits

    • Truth Not Partisan said, on July 27, 2010 at 1:48 am


      You claim that Netanyahu is a war hawk, yet what about Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. Fatah and their armed wing have killed more Israelis then Hamas since 2000. And they are the ones considered moderates!

      and i wont even comment on the ridiculousness of the rest of your comments. They are too absurd.

      • Arvay said, on July 27, 2010 at 1:50 am

        yes, and how many Palestinians have been killed by Israel since 2000?

        Typical Zionist screeching of irrelevancies in the hope that a serious discussion can be avoided. And you think Egypt is democratic?

  2. Jaydee001 said, on July 27, 2010 at 1:49 am

    The US has a habit of calling for ‘democratic’ elections and then rejecting the results we do not like – something that has happened many other times in our history – examples include the recent elections in Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq, which have not turned out exactly the way we would like them. We really don’t seem to like the current government in Pakistan, but it’s better than a number of alternatives that might have been possible, and besides we need their assistance to combat al Qaeda and the Taliban.

    We are forced to live with a government we don’t like in Afghanistan, where more than 100,000 US personnel are engaged in a war on behalf of our puppet; we can only wait and hope in Iraq, where we are trying to extricate ourselves from the mess of our own creation; and our government has been totally flummoxed by the situation in Iran, where our opposition to the ruling elite actually helps the incumbents hold onto power. Of course, we did finally recognize the results of the controversial elections (coup d’etat?) in Honduras, despite the fact that most of South American and Mexico declined to do so. Must have been in our interest to ignore the constitutional issue there.

    As for the Palestinians, I doubt Israel is going to accede to any unified, let alone democratically elected, government for them. They really do not care if the Palestinians are split into any number of factions, because that keeps the international attention away from what they are doing to prevent the formulation of any Palestinian state, while it weakens the cause of Palestinian statehood.

  3. AmosYarkoni said, on July 27, 2010 at 1:49 am

    The end of Palestinian democracy? Why so negative?

    We can just view it as the beginning of the Palestinians settling into the arab world. Now they have a government just like the rest of their brothers (autocratic, corrupt, despotic, violent, kelptocratic, conspiratorial, inefficient, and fanatical at various times).

  4. Truth Not Partisan said, on July 27, 2010 at 1:51 am

    I never said Egypt was democratic so do not put words in my mouth.

    Yet, Israel as a government has not killed people as terrorists. They act in self defense and responsibly.

    • OpEmily said, on July 27, 2010 at 1:51 am

      wait- what about civilian casualties????? You know, the people who really don’t care about politics but had their house blown up because they lived on the same block as someone the Israelis suspected of being a member of Hamas.

      If they don’t want to get bombed, will the Israeli government give them a nice villa in Tel Aviv so they can catch “the real terrorists”

      • Truth Not Partisan said, on July 27, 2010 at 1:52 am

        and what of Israeli civilians? Will Hamas and Fatah give them land in Jerusalem and Rammallah so they can hunt down the “Israeli” criminials?

        What an absurd statement.

  5. […] Read the original here: Democracy Delayed in the West Bank « Daniel R. DePetris: The … […]

  6. Chris said, on July 27, 2010 at 5:45 am

    Interesting piece. On the one hand you are completely right. The US completely botched the 2006 elections. Not only did it reveal the selective character of US democracy promotion, but it also undermined both the US and Fatah in the eyes of many Palestinians.

    However, you made one comment that I disagree with : that Palestinians would be exuberant about voting. I live in the West Bank and the Palestinians here are very indifferent about politics. There is a small politically active elite, but the majority of Palestinians have been beaten into apathy by the PA and Israel. That the elections were postponed did not surprise anyone- most view Abbas and Fatah as tools of Israel. The everyday Palestinian has much more important things to worry about than which corrupt Fatah politician to vote for.

    Until there are truly different options for Palestinian voters, Palestinian elections will be a shame.

    • Dan said, on July 27, 2010 at 10:47 pm

      Unfortunately Chris, you are absolutely right. The Fatah Party- and the P.A. more generally- is seen as nothing but a loose confederation of old time politicians who still have an old mentality on the conflict. The only true reformer in the entire organization is Salam Fayyad, who is at least trying to build some sort of civilian institutions from the ground up. But even this effort, while noteworthy in its own right, is not doing much to alleviate Palestinian frustration. I actually heard that Fayyad’s economic reforms are not really establishing new institutions…all they are doing is replacing the ones that were weakened during Arafat’s tenure.

      Couple this with Fatah’s heavy dependence on the United States for cash and development aid, and I’m not exactly surprised by your comment. But it’s indeed a good one, which should be raised again and again. The problem is that Washington is not hearing the complaints. What the White House and Congress are doing is pouring money into a group that is anti-Hamas, even if the group is elitist and lacking in legitimacy.

      Amazing how you are in the West Bank. That must be some experience! Check back in soon.

  7. […] Original post: Democracy Delayed in the West Bank « Daniel R. DePetris: The … […]

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