The elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, which was created with the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, have already been pushed off several times, and are currently scheduled for next month. Current polls suggest Hamas will win significant representation – perhaps as much as 40 percent.
This should come as no surprise. The current parliament, as well as the Palestinian government, is ruled by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party. It is hard to imagine an authority that has been more of a failure than this.
Over the past decade, the international community has donated some USD 10 billion to the PA; money that has been used in that time to create an ocean of corruption and inefficiency.
The Fatah government has not advanced the dream of an independent Palestinian state, and has revealed again and again intolerable (and inexplicable) weakness with regard to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The faction was helpless in the face of Yasser Arafat's deceptive ways, and party officials looked away from his excesses until the day he died.
Despite explicit commitments to the contrary, Fatah has comminuted to function dually as a political part and an illegal armed militia, occasionally acting against orders from the political echelon.
The Fatah government did nothing to prevent the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada, which was originally billed as a "popular reaction to Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount." But senior officials admitted privately to Israeli and foreign diplomats that the intifada severely damaged Palestinian interests, but refused to employ the legitimate arms of power to stop it.
One could have expected Fatah, a secular party with many senior leaders educated in the gospel of revolutionary communist ideology in the Soviet Union, to stand strongly against radical Islam. But this has not happened. Instead, Fatah has undergone a rapid process of Islamization, and at the height of the intifada gave its blessing to suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.
It is no wonder, therefore, that during the years of Fatah’s rule in the PA, residents feel deceived, frustrated, and angry. Their standard of living has plummeted, daily life has become unbearable. Israel's roadblocks and the closures hit commerce, the economy and civilian life very hard.
Thus, the Fatah government made itself completely impotent with regard to all matters concerning law enforcement or providing the most minimal government services.
Strength against failure
Hamas' strength is particularly glaring against the background of Fatah's failures. This extremist party is considered by the Palestinian street not only as clean and uncorrupt, but also as an address that cares about the ordinary citizen. Palestinians are well aware of Hamas' extremist nature and know the group rejects outright Israel's right to exist.
But many people believe Hamas in government will act entirely different than Hamas in opposition. They are calling a vote for Hamas the "Sharon Precedent": Just like Ariel Sharon, builder of settlements and champion of the Whole Land of Israel, reversed course upon becoming prime minister – so, too (they hope) will Hamas undergo a similar change, once they understand the needs of the Palestinian people from the perspective of a governing party, rather than an illegal terrorist group.
This Palestinian gamble worries us Israelis, but it is understandable. From the average Palestinian's point of view, voting for Hamas is an appropriate reaction to the rotten and failed leadership of Fatah.
In light of the expected election results, is there any democratic way to prevent the Palestinian public from exercising their electoral rights? The answer is no.
Even if there was a way to push off council elections (again), it wouldn't help. Quite the contrary: The situation in the PA would only get worse, and make things worse for us, too.
Free elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council are the main legitimate expression of the deep changes that have occurred in the Palestinians' political preferences. Pushing them off will not change that reality; it will only allow the deceitful Fatah leadership to continue to rule.
Until the explosion, that is, that will then be impossible to prevent.
Sever Plocker is a columnist for Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth