The postponed elections in the Palestinian Authority: A warning sign for the "day after" Abu Mazen
By Dr. Michael Milshtein | May, 2021
|Photo: Kremlin.ru | CC BY 4.0|
Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) seems to have escaped with little damage from the postponement of the elections for which the Palestinian system has been preparing for over six months. Although Hamas expressed severe criticism, it is doubtful whether it will successfully promote a popular Intifada against the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, the public has not protested against the PA, and the international community has only feebly responded to Abu Mazen's announcement that he has put an end to this democratic process, the likes of which have not been experienced by the Palestinians in 15 years.
Those who are knowledgeable in Abu Mazen's political demeanor were not surprised by the postponement. Since he was elected president in 2005, he has been creating severe crises internally and externally that reflected a lack of profound strategic thinking, as well as a gap between interests and actual outcomes. In the best-case scenarios, they ended with his embarrassing retreat; in the worst-case ones, in painful defeat. The 2006 elections which Hamas won was a prominent example, as was the Palestinian Authority's defeat in the fight for control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and the dozens of crises between Israel and the PA over the past decade, which began with great fuss and mostly ended with the Palestinians folding.
The same was true for the elections: Abu Mazen initiated this move about six months ago but had no intention of seeing it through. Instead, he sought to use it to improve his image in the eyes of the incoming U.S. administration, get its attention, and strengthen his weakening legitimization domestically. In his heart of hearts, Abu Mazen assumed that Hamas would raise difficulties that would enable him to blame it for the failed attempt at elections, or else that Israel would thwart it early on.
In practice, the stars aligned against him once again: Hamas employed a "honey trap" strategy, agreeing to every condition set by the PA; the West was indifferent to the goings on in the Palestinian Authority; Israel remained vague, refusing to "come to Abu Mazen's aid" by expressing any real objection to holding elections in Jerusalem; and, within his own camp, motivation was found for promoting the elections, primarily by Jibril Rajoub, One of Fatah`s prominent leaders, who believed they could pave the way to presidency for him.
As time went by, the adventure became riskier: Fatah split up more and more into several lists that turned against one another; whereas Hamas put together an attractive list, forming a united front, and making Abu Mazen realize that he was headed for certain defeat. He used the matter of holding the elections in Jerusalem as means by which to "get off" the election "high horse", blaming Israel for his failed attempt, although it is clear to every Palestinian that this is merely an excuse, and not a genuine reason. Abu Mazen has therefore lost from every direction: his party was crushed while preparing for the elections that will not be taking place; whereas he himself is being accused both internally and externally for preventing democratization and national reconciliation.
The elections affair serves as a warning for the Palestinians, Israel, Arab world and international community in anticipation of what might happen on the "day after" Abu Mazen. This event triggers several alerts: the Fatah's profound weakness and internal division versus Hamas' strength; the absence of a clear strategy and organized decision-making process in Ramallah's top echelon; and the feebleness of key figures in Abu Mazen's circle who aspire to become his successors while failing to do as expected of them and stop the 86-year-old president well in advance from taking a confident step toward a political abyss.
One might also wonder why the public is so indifferent to the elections being postponed – behavior that does not attest to agreeing with the PA's policy, but rather to deep alienation, distrust and disinterest, that, in the "day after" scenarios, could evolve into an "Arab Spring"-like wave of protests against the government in Ramallah.
Further attention must be paid to Rajoub, who suffered a blow by the postponement of the elections, but may promote them more persistently on the "day after", enhancing his call for the establishment of a joint Fatah-Hamas national leadership. Such a scenario could allow Hamas to strengthen its standing in the Palestinian system while entrenching its status as its rightful leader – a strategic goal of the organization on the "day after" Abu Mazen.
The current crisis shows that Abu Mazen has come to the end of his political road, and the "day after" issue is becoming more relevant than ever. Since he seems incapable of providing any prospects in the internal Palestinian context or the negotiations with Israel, Aby Mazen will probably continue to rule using his "regular" patterns, with no vision for the future, until he will "disappear". Unless some surprising scenarios involving his resignation or "removal" by others in the Palestinian leadership will materialize, of which, at present at least, there is no indication.
Authored by Dr. Michael Milshtein, a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.
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