Israel is not prepared for the Palestinian elections – editorial

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The truth is that the blame lies with the PA and Hamas. The problem for Israel is it allowed the slouching toward elections to occur without bothering to consider the various train-wreck outcomes.

https://www.jpost.com/-By JPOST EDITORIAL

Palestinians protest during an anti-Israel protest over tension in Jerusalem, in Gaza City, April 24, 2021.

(photo credit: ATIA MOHAMMED/FLASH90)

Palestinian elections scheduled for May could be postponed; a final decision is expected from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday evening. If this happens, blame will be cast on Israel, and the excuse will be a refusal by the government to allow Palestinians to vote in east Jerusalem.

The truth is that the blame lies with the PA and Hamas. They have prevented Palestinians from having any real say in their affairs for a decade and a half, ever since the last election – which saw Hamas win – was held in 2006.

The problem for Israel is that it has allowed the slouching toward elections to occur without bothering to consider the various train-wreck outcomes. What if the elections go ahead and Hamas wins? Would this lead to a repeat scenario of 2006, or would the PA have a civil conflict?

Hamas cannot be allowed to come to power in Ramallah, a move that would present an inevitable avenue to more conflict. This is a multisided conflict because Hamas not only wants to eradicate Israel but also wants to suppress Palestinians. Many Fatah officials have been tough on Hamas, and Hamas will want revenge.

On the other hand, Israel has not appeared to really care about the outcome. While quietly admitting that a Fatah failure in the elections could hurt Israel, Jerusalem has made an effort not to interfere. Clearly, if Israel is seen to favor one side, that side may do worse.

But what happened to the possibility of creating some political capital from the recent Abraham Accords? Why didn’t the accords help new winds of peace blow in the West Bank? Rumors over the last year have indicated that Mohammad Dahlan, the former Fatah strongman in Gaza, has become close to Abu Dhabi, and there are hints he could seek a return to leadership.

Unsurprisingly, Hamas wants the elections to continue. It is unified in Gaza. It’s unclear if Fatah would even be allowed to campaign there. This presents a strange scenario in which a divided Fatah might go to elections knowing it can lose.

The elephant in the room here is not just the potential for chaos in the PA, but Israel’s own lack of a government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has supported inertia and managing the conflict with the Palestinians, as opposed to actually initiating anything. He believes the status quo works in Israel’s favor.

According to this thinking, a divided PA and leadership mean that, in the long term, Israel is not confronted with a new intifada or international pressure. Israel has succeeded, for instance, in neutralizing Palestinian Islamic Jihad threats from Gaza, while maintaining a semblance of quiet with Hamas – shattered this week by rocket fire from Gaza. But in general, the security situation in the West Bank has been good.

Recent clashes in Jerusalem, however, show how things can spiral out of control. The mixed messages Palestinians received, with the installation and removal of barriers at Damascus Gate and clashes with police, leave many wondering what is going on. Ramadan is always a sensitive time.

Israel has a duty to protect its citizens from the kind of “TikTok” attacks that were filmed showing Arab youths attacking religious Jews. However, there appears to be no long-term vision in Jerusalem on this issue. Netanyahu is distracted by his failure to form a government. In that sense, Israel also remains stuck in a reality of continued coalition instability. This almost makes it seem that Fatah’s internal political chaos and Israel’s internal chaos are symbiotic – which allows Hamas and other extremists to make inroads.

The Jewish state needs to have a strategy with the Palestinians. Ignoring them hasn’t worked. “Managing the conflict” brings only temporary security but not any long-term conceptual change. If Israel is blamed for preventing the Palestinian elections, it will not be helpful in the country’s attempt to create a more positive image in Europe and throughout the region.

This doesn’t mean that Israel needs to let voting take place in east Jerusalem, but it does need to hold serious discussions about the issue. With no functioning government, that does not seem likely to happen anytime soon.

 

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