Nahum Barnea

Abbas faces new world

Regardless of PA election results, Hamas has already won

RAMALLAH - At 10:30 in the morning, early by the standards of Palestinian politics, Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the Muqata government compound in Ramallah. On the way there he passed hundreds of colorful election posters: They covered every fence, wall, electricity pole and hung from virtually every roof.


There is no law about election advertising in the Palestinian Authority, and if there is, it is just one more law that is not enforced.


The candidates took care to portray themselves on predictable backgrounds: Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock, Yasser Arafat, or the Palestinian flag.


Others used the green crescent of Hamas, or the image of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who must be having a great laugh at all this from his spot in the next world.


Learning lessons


Abbas would have seen very few pictures of himself, apart from an official Fatah ad opposite the Muqata that includes Abbas together with Arafat, Abu Jihad, and a slogan: "First building block, first shot, we will continue to fight."


Abbas wanted to use all his time, all his energy to lead Fatah to victory in these elections. He remembers well what happened not-that-long-ago in the Labor Party battle between Shimon Peres and Amir Peretz.


"I won't be like Shimon Peres," he said. "I won't go to sleep and wait for results."


But his presidential duties eat up the day. Jimmy Carter, the former U.S. president and current election observer, is coming to visit. He struggled to bring up memories of meeting with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. The meeting lasted a half-hour.


Next, the president of Albania came in for a photo-op, as did the former Spanish foreign minister and former French president, two Yedioth Ahronoth reporters, and others.


Dr. Rafik Husseini, part of the well-known Palestinian Jerusalem dynasty and director of Abbas' office, escorts the visitors while Abbas, a good man at a bad time, hugs and blesses and smokes and drinks coffee and jokes around with his visitors.


'Polls are wrong'


But his face betrays an inner tension. The results of today's election will put him in a new world, the nature of which he doesn’t yet know. They will probably bring destruction upon the Palestinian Authority, and him with it.


They will probably demand new, difficult, brutal procedures, in contrast to both his nature and what he's used to. His fate is in the hands of the mob outside.


He is convinced the results will be kind to his party, Fatah, and a slap in the face to Hamas. The polls are wrong and misleading.


"I wish we Palestinians also had a (leading Israeli pollster) Dr. Mina Tzemah," he says.


Even if Fatah is able to put together a coalition with several small parties, Hamas is already the winner in these elections. The party's political wing has won legitimacy, even as the military wing is preparing the next generation of Qassam rockets.


Even worse: The new Palestinian parliament will feature a well-established, disciplined Hamas faction to stand in opposition to a fractured, argumentative Fatah one. Here, the Likud crumbled because of 14 rebels. In Fatah, it's every man for himself.


Kadura Fares, a close aide of Marwan Barghouti and a Fatah candidate from Ramallah, says he doesn't even go to the Fatah election headquarters.


"Over at HQ, there are British advisors who know nothing about the mentality of the Palestinian voter."


At the Muqata, on the other hand, they are convinced that a large proportion of candidates on the Fatah list are little more than hooligans. If Mahmoud Abbas wants to survive, he must shake up his party from within, even at the risk of causing a split.


Celebration, yes. But democracy?


Manara Square in Ramallah will be the most photographed location in the Middle East today (the post office in east Jerusalem, which will host voting because of an Israeli gesture to the Americans, will be the most visited).


Tuesday, the site was covered with photographs of the candidates: The lion statues bend under the strain of the photographs. A celebration of democracy, says the cliche.


Yeah, a celebration: Every courtship is a celebration, especially one that adds a bit of color to the grayness of winter.


But democracy? Not so much. 70,000 people serve in the Palestinian security forces. They voted two days ago, in order to be able to maintain order on Election Day. Ninty percent of them voted, and their officers gave explicit instructions to vote for Fatah candidates.


"It's true," says Kadura Fares, "It's not so democratic, but there are always non-democratic things in an election.


"Like preachers in the mosques campaigning for Hamas. That's also not so democratic."


Nahum Barnea is Israel's top political commentator and writes for Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's leading newspaper

פרסום ראשון: 01.25.06, 11:13
 new comment
This will delete your current comment