Apparently, the political issue is becoming a marginal consideration in the coming Palestinian legislative elections. The political headlines presented by competing lists seem to be ignored by the majority of voters and internal issues are occupying the center of public interest. This issue is likely to play to the hands of the Islamic movement.
Fatah is calling for a continuity of its political engagement, insisting that a Palestinian state is possible to achieve through negotiations with Israel; leftist groups are calling for negotiations under the umbrella of an international conference, and Hamas is calling for a long term ceasefire in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal. Those are the main political headlines of the competing lists.
With a history of 50 years of a continued struggle with no physical achievements and 10 years of fruitless negotiations, Palestinians are not likely to make choices based on political aspects. Nothing points to the need of making radical changes in the public political attitudes, a fact that allowed most of the competing list to easily use rhetoric statements rather than presenting comprehensive political programs or visions. In short, the whole issue of peace and struggle is in effect set aside.
As the focus shifts to domestic issues, Fatah, the party in power, is walking on moving sands. The movement’s old guards, most of whom returned to the Palestinian occupied territories after the signing of the Oslo accords, and therefore lack community bases whether political or tribal, are right now paying the price of ignoring the movement’s young guards and of pushing them away from decision making platforms.
With election day closing, the rift increased as the movement young guards saw in it a golden opportunity to demonstrate power and force on the historical leadership a new formula of power sharing.
Parallel to its internal problem, Fatah is faced with an increasing in popularity Islamic movement, who is also interested in power sharing. Consequently, issues like corruption and malfunctioning topped the election agenda spotting light at the rotten sides that the Palestinian authority worked hard to cover.
Surprisingly, Hamas managed to smoothly make the transformation from a highly militant struggling group into a responsible political movement. Unlike Fatah, the move created little internal problems and allowed Hamas to head to elections as a united movement. Not only that, but Hamas’s new and appears to be moderate stand, helped lower the fears among main sectors in the public and opened the door for the Islamic movement to gain more support from within the secular or non-religiously committed sectors of the Palestinian community.
With the drastic failure of the leftist groups to unify efforts, Hamas became the adequate choice for the ones who wants to punish the Palestinian authority for corruption and the state of lawlessness.
The question remains: what are Hamas’s signs of moderation? And are those real or merely campaign slogans?
By offering a long term ceasefire in exchange to a complete Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borders, Hamas is closing up with the main stream PLO program, which also links the issue of full recognition with settling the refugees’ issue.
An important factor to be considered here is Hamas’s ability to avoid allowing ideological and political extremism to influence its leadership, which was strictly kept in the hands of the traditional Islamic Brotherhood.
Worldwide, the Islamic Brotherhood group is raising voice against extreme militant Islamic groups and showing more pragmatic attitudes especially towards the western world. In Iraq they joined election "under occupation"; in Turkey they head a government, which keeps good ties with Israel and strategic alliance with the United States; a section of the Islamic movement in Israel is represented in the Knesset; the Islamic Brotherhood in Syria is considering alliance with the west to topple down the Assad regime.
This renewed Islamic brotherhood trend coincides with U.S. efforts to encourage the "democratization" of the middle east, which also aims at allowing "moderate" Islamic movements to compete for political power in their countries. There are indicators showing that such a U.S. interest stems from a strategic understanding that an oppressed in the Middle East Islamic movements will continue to breed radical Islamic groups with a high level of hostility towards the west in general and the United States in particular.
Such an understanding most likely stands behind the U.S. administration insistence on running elections in Iraq with the prior knowledge that Islamic groups will triumph, on pressuring Egypt to change its constitution and allow a room for the Islamic movement to be elected to the parliament, and on its insistence to run Palestinian elections on time despite indicators showing a growing popularity of the Islamic movement and despite the Palestinian Authority and Fatah sever crisis.