Hamas & the Islamists
Security & military issues
People in the news
Local elections/presidential campaigning start
by Omar Karmi
THE FIRST phase of local elections was completed on December 23 in 26 municipalities in the West Bank, while PLO head Mahmoud Abbas kicked off his campaign for the presidency in Al Bireh near Ramallah. Calls for an end to the armed resistance were undermined by a steady trickle of Palestinian dead throughout the Christmas week.
On December 23, residents of 26 West Bank municipalities went to the polls to elect their local councils for the first time since the Israeli-sponsored elections of 1976. According to figures from the ministry of local government, the turnout was impressive: 81 percent of the 144,000 eligible voters cast their ballots, while among eligible women voters, 49 percent participated. Female candidates won 51 seats, 32 of them outright, that is without having to claim those reserved for women under the quota law.
According to the official results, Fateh won 183 of the 306 seats being contended, with Hamas coming second on 84. Hamas officials, nevertheless, hailed their results as a “great victory” taking out a front-page ad in Al Quds on December 26 congratulating and listing all its winning candidates. The group had previously criticized the staggered municipal elections format as weighted in favor of Fateh, but appeared content, as did minister for local government, Jamal Shobaki, that the elections had been “honest and free,” in the words of the latter on December 26.
Meanwhile, campaigning for the presidential elections also started in earnest with Abbas, the frontrunner, kicking off his campaign with a speech to a small audience in Al Bireh near Ramallah on December 25.
“We are loyal to the national principles and demand the removal of the wall and an end to settlements. We will not accept settlements, and that includes Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel,” Abbas said, referring to the major Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank.
Indeed, Abbas’ insistence in his public pronouncements on placing himself squarely within what he calls “Arafat’s legacy,” i.e. a Palestinian state on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and with a just solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees based on UN resolution 194, has won him few friends in Israeli circles. On December 27, Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom said Abbas’ December 25 speech “does not bode well and is impossible to accept as just another campaign speech.” Shalom denounced Abbas’ efforts to place himself as the ideological successor to Arafat by saying, “for us Arafat’s legacy is a legacy of terror.”
In his second campaign speech in Jericho on December 28, however, Abbas fired back at his critics. “I heard [Shalom’s] criticism because I talked about Jerusalem and refugees,” Abbas told an enthusiastic crowd at the local soccer stadium, “but what do they want us to talk about so we don’t disappoint them?” He went on to reaffirm his positions on Jerusalem and refugees.
Abbas has consistently polled comfortably ahead of his nearest rival Mustapha Barghouti in recent polls, and seems set for an easy victory. His path was considerably cleared when Marwan Barghouti withdrew from the race earlier this month. On December 27, former PA minister of public security Mohammad Dahlan visited the Fateh West Bank secretary in the Israeli prison where he is being held. According to Dahlan, during the meeting Barghouti endorsed Abbas as the only candidate “capable of bridging the gap between the generations.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli cabinet on December 26 agreed on measures to facilitate the presidential elections, thought to include a temporary withdrawal of troops from around cities in the West Bank, as well as allowing Palestinian Jerusalemites to vote at post offices in East Jerusalem. This latter was agreed upon but only after Israeli finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu added a sentence to the decision stating that “any assistance Israel provides to facilitate elections in East Jerusalem will not derogate in any way from Jerusalem's status as Israel's capital.” Netanyahu said this means that East Jerusalem residents will essentially be casting absentee ballots in the PA election, just as overseas residents do.
Abbas’ repeated calls to end the armed resistance and focus instead on negotiations and peaceful means to fight the occupation was on December 26 endorsed by some 560 prominent Palestinians, including senior PLO officials, cabinet ministers, lawmakers, intellectuals and poets.
”We reaffirm our legitimate right to confront the occupation, but call for restoring the popular character of our intifada and ceasing actions that reduce the range of [international] support for our cause and harm the credibility of our struggle,” they said in a front-page advertisement in all major newspapers.
The call has been seconded by West Bank Hamas official Hasan Yousef, who has called for a hudna, but other Hamas officials, as well as both Islamic Jihad and the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, have rejected the idea, insisting that a ceasefire cannot be unilateral.
Certainly, Israel does not appear to be buying into the idea, with a daily trickle of Palestinian casualties throughout the week. On December 22, four people were killed during an Israeli incursion into Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip. The next day, also in Khan Yunis, two people were killed when their home was shelled. Also on December 23, six people were injured in clashes near Ithna west of Hebron, where the latest phase of Israel’s separation wall is being built. The day before, an Israeli guard at the wall was killed by Palestinian gunfire.
On December 24, three members of the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Fateh’s military wing, were killed in the Tulkarm refugee camp, while on December 25 one of the leaders of the Brigades in Jenin was killed in Jenin Camp. Tha’er Jamal Abu Kamel had been hiding in a building that was demolished around him by Israeli troops who had earlier evacuated other occupants.
On December 26, two members of Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedin Qassam Brigades, were killed in Gaza setting a booby trap for Israeli tanks passing near the Bureij Camp. On December 27, one member of the Aqsa Brigades was assassinated by a special Israeli undercover unit in the Balata camp in Nablus, while a Qassam member was killed in Gaza.
-Published December 29, 2004©Palestine Report