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Wednesday, December 21, 2005 

Israel denies Palestinians from excerising their democratic right.

Everyone wants the Middle East to become more democratic, but Israel and the United States are only interested if the people support the 'right' parties:

January's Palestinian parliamentary elections have been plunged into crisis after Israel decided to prevent Palestinians in Jerusalem from voting.

Israeli prime minister's spokesman Raanan Gissin told the BBC it was concerned that the Palestinian militant group Hamas might gain power.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the decision and said it would cancel the poll if voting in Jerusalem is barred.

This election will be only the second since the PA was established in 1995.

Press reports also suggest that head of Egyptian intelligence, General Omar Suleiman, who met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, is attempting to persuade Mr Abbas to postpone the vote.

Gen Suleiman has reportedly passed on a warning from the US and the EU that aid to the Palestinian Authority would be suspended if Hamas were to make big gains and become part of the future Palestinian government.

Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath said that if there was no voting in Jerusalem, "there will be no elections at all".

"For us, Jerusalem is more important than any other thing," he added.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the 25 January election would be sabotaged if Palestinians resident in East Jerusalem were prevented from voting.

"If these elections don't take place, it will be a catastrophe for the Palestinians," he said.

"I know what the Israelis have on their minds. They don't want a partner. They want unilateralism."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri has told reporters that his group wants the election held as scheduled.

Mr Gissin told the BBC that the Israeli government had changed its stance since last January's presidential election, when voting had been permitted.

Under special voting arrangements for East Jerusalem - which Israel has annexed and sees as its exclusive domain, while international law decrees it to be occupied territory - Palestinians have previously been allowed to vote in Israeli post offices.

Mr Gissin said these had been exceptions, and stressed the government would not help what he called a terrorist organisation, Hamas, come to power.

In October, Israel pulled back from a policy of opposing the participation of Hamas in January's elections.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said it was not in Israel's interest to oppose Hamas' participation.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had said earlier that his government would hinder voting in the West Bank if Hamas candidates stood in the election.

This is all very ironic. Like America supported the mujahadein in Afghanistan during the 80s in their war against the Soviets, Israel supported and helped Hamas during the 70s and 80s as a bulwark against the PLO. Hamas has since grown hugely in popularity, especially since the death of Yasser Arafat. Hamas more or less runs the Gaza Strip, where Fatah has become marginalised due to corruption, both real and imagined. Hamas now threatens to make the same in-roads into the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Israelis are if anything just using delaying tactics. As it continues to build its so-called security wall, which cuts deep into Palestinian land and as the settlements continue to grow, Israel knows that it can get away with calling Hamas terrorists and therefore blocking them from gaining any sort of power. This is despite Hamas's repeated statements that if a viable two-state solution was available, with the right of return and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, that they would lay down their arms and let the next generation decide whether to accept that. In other words, they would disband and live side by side with the Israelis in peace. This though is not compatible with Israel's simplistic message that Hamas is a extremist Islamic organisation that will accept nothing less than Israel's destruction. In constantly letting the world know what it thinks, Israel manages to continue to break both international law and the conditions of the road map to peace. It sets the unreasonable demand that the armed groups have to disarm and renounce terrorism before any negotiations begin, the exact opposite to what has led to relative peace in Northern Ireland.

It now seems that Israel is so afraid of Hamas becoming the main Palestinian political organisation that it will stop elections from taking place, making a mockery of George Bush's stated aims of being democracy to the Middle East. Whether Sharon is willing to give up more settlements if his new Kadima party wins power in Israel in the likely upcoming election, there is no chance of the 1967 borders being recognised in any subsequent deal for peace. Unless Sharon realises that only by not humiliating the Palestinians can be peace be broked, there will never be a deal. If he wants to be remembered as the man who brought peace and an end to the biggest source of discontent in the Middle East, then he will have to accept that bullets will never win over ballots.

In the meantine, Israel continues to make everyday life for Palestinians a complete misery:

"The entire West Bank is now becoming covered with phosphorescent yellow vests. A new ruling that will come into effect in Israel shortly will require every driver to wear this glowing garment when he leaves his car at night on the road. West Bank drivers, whose safety is especially important to Israel, have rushed to buy vests from the many peddlers on the sides of the roads: They know that they will be the first ones to get ticketed for violations. At the Qalandiyah checkpoint they cost NIS 15 each."
Does that remind you of anything at all?

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