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Palestinian elections: A democratic exercise in futility
At first glance, the beginning of 2005 seems like a fresh breath in Israel-Palestine -- the U.S. and Israel have just seen the death of the "non-partner" Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is pushing his Gaza disengagement plan, and this weekend the Palestinians will be having their first presidential elections in nearly ten years. But time will likely prove that these are false prospects for hope, and that the region, and the Palestinians in particular, will continue to gasp for a resolution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And it is precisely because they are grasping that the majority of Palestinians are likely to vote for Israeli and American favorite Mahmoud Abbas, known more familiarly here in Palestine as "Abu Mazen". Abu Mazen doesn't possess the cult of personality and heroic history that Yasser Arafat did, and he appears awkward wearing the traditional checkered keffiyeh over his silk tie and tailored suit. He is widely seen as corrupt, and likely to sell out to the Israelis and Americans many of the Palestinian rights enshrined in international law. But Palestinians will vote for him anyway.
Though Palestinians are disenchanted with the often-shady Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen, and they hold little optimism over his victory, people will vote for Abu Mazen because he has the best relationship with the U.S. and Israel, and thus the best chance at striking a peace deal -- however paltry a peace deal it may eventually be. The second-highest polling candidate, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, doesn't enjoy this status as favorite, nor does he have the influence over the various militant factions in the Palestinian territories like his rival, whom Palestinians are voting for out of pragmatism rather than idealism.
It is fair to say that despite not having a presidential election since 1996, Palestinians are hardly euphoric over the upcoming vote. While President Bush stated December 20, "There will never be peace until a true democratic state emerges in the Palestinian territory," Palestinians, and anyone else who cares to examine the realities happening on the ground, know that peace depends on the cessation of the Israeli military occupation Palestinians have been enduring since 1967, the reaching of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, and the ability for both Israelis and Palestinians to exercise their self-determination.
Bush also declared that this election is "the beginning of the process toward the development of a state." If this election is the first process of a future state, then we can only hope that Palestinians will be allowed to build a state under better conditions that they are expected to hold an election. Because it is being held under the thumb of a cruel and unrelenting Israeli occupation, and because the international media and key players are only paying attention to one candidate, the elections are far from free and fair.