The Palestinian elections are just one small move in the bigger game in the Middle East with deadly consequences that go beyond the people in this troubled part of the world. The majority of Palestinians are ironically excluded from this vote: the 1.3 million Palestinians inside the so-called Green line and the millions of refugees outside of Palestine/Israel. The minority of Palestinians voting are those living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. President Bush said once that elections under foreign occupations are meaningless. He was referring to Lebanon and the presence of Syrian troops. He was not challenged to explain Iraq and Palestinian “elections”. 450,000 colonial Jewish settlers are interspersed among the 3.5 million native Palestinians (Christians and Muslims) allowed to “vote”. There are also tens of thousands of Israeli troops manning some 300 checkpoints and gates in walls and fences that encircle ever-shrinking Palestinian cantons.
Under the watchful eye of the jailers and the suffocating walls and hundreds of checkpoints between these cantons, the prisoners/occupied people are holding elections for a body with limited if any powers. In the Oslo agreements, it is stated (Article 18) that “Legislation, including legislation which amends or abrogates existing laws or military orders, which exceeds the jurisdiction of the Council or which is otherwise inconsistent with the provisions of the [Declaration of Principles], this Agreement, or of any other agreement that may be reached between the two sides during the interim period, shall have no effect and shall be void ab initio.”
On the positive side, and despite these incredible limitations, the Palestinians permitted to vote showed an incredible internal democratic diversity and varied perspectives. All parties with the exception of the tiny and insignificant “Islamic Jihad ” have fielded candidates. Hamas presented a new platform significantly moderated (accepts negotiations with Israel and hence recognizes Israel). A Christian Palestinian candidate is supported by Hamas. The secular Fatah lost much support for two reasons: 1) it was put in the untenable position keeping an occupied population docile while colonization of their land continued, and 2) Fatah included many corrupt leaders who complied to advance their personal interests ahead of the interests of their people. But there are, besides Hamas and Fatah other democratic groups that are likely to garner collectively 30% of the votes.
This fragmentation may provide the needed checks and balance to prevent the emergence of a dominant power willing to concede more Palestinian rights than what Arafat was willing to do. US officials diverted some money intended for development to give Fatah a boost in the upcoming elections (NY Times 1/22/06). But this might be a half-hearted effort. US policy, shaped by Israel, claimed that there was “no partner” before these elections (with Fatah in charge) and it will be difficult to see what would change regardless of who wins these elections. The US insisted on having Iraqi expatriates vote in elections and is willing to negotiate with insurgents while rejecting the same principles for Palestinians.
Two other events will shape the Middle East in March: The Israeli elections and the launch of the Iranian oil Bourse (which will switch from dollar denominated oil exchange to euro denominated exchange). Israel and the US government both stated, not coincidentally, that March is a key date to up the ante on Iran! Hence the regional chess game continues. As American citizens are exposed to the truth they will more and more demand an end to US occupation of Iraq and Israeli occupation of Palestine, both of which paid for by our taxes. This money can then be redirected to healthcare, education, and decent paying jobs here in America.
The elephant in the room is the existence of an influential lobby in Washington DC that helps (in part) shape US foreign policy and funnel billions to Israel as it violates dozens of UN Security Council resolutions. The lobby is represented by a coalition including AIPAC, Christian Zionists, and key individuals inside both US executive and legislative branches of government. Jack Abramoff’s network and Larry Franklin’s case (leak of secret US documents to Israel via AIPAC officials) are just the proverbial tips of the iceberg. It remains to be seen whether the Justice Department will resist the pressures and expose more of this nefarious network. It remains to be seen whether the US Congress will institute real not cosmetic lobby reforms that put that and other cash cows to rest.
A good test will be the upcoming request for additional billions of our taxes to support Israel’s effort to make the Negev and the Galilee more Jewish under the rubric of “development”. This request was delayed to avoid a PR scandal at the time of Hurricane Katrina. Despite attempts at silencing, more information is getting out about the harm to US public interest created by these and other narrow special interests. It is thus only a matter of time before public pressure builds to reorient US policy to support human rights and International law. Then it will not be possible to have the kind of distorted votes at the UN where some 150 countries vote one way and the US and Israel vote another way (joined sometimes by dependent islands like Micronesia and the Marshal Islands). As citizens we can speed up this process and thus save more lives, limbs, and dollars for all and help bring real and just peace (as opposed to pacification).