Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s repeated assertions that he opposes Hamas’ inclusion in parliamentary elections and will not facilitate the holding of these elections should Hamas participate, have only one practical effect. That is to play into the hands of Hamas, which can present itself as the Palestinian faction facing the maximum amount of hostility from the enemy.
But Sharon’s position might have been more effective, and consequently more detrimental to the Palestinian Authority, had it been echoed and supported by the international community. The statement last week by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after a meeting of the Quartet members in New York did not endorse this position, leaving the impression that Sharon’s is an isolated Israeli position that does not register internationally.
From a Palestinian perspective, one of the main objectives of holding these elections is to include organized and influential opposition groups within the political system. In addition to widening the representation of Palestinian political and social trends in the body politic, this will also automatically involve a commitment and adherence by these opposition groups to democratic parameters; i.e., the abidance of the minority to the rule of the majority, respect for law and order as embodied by the political system, and the acceptance of the laws and international commitments of the PA.
For these opposition groups to enter the elections is to change their political positions and behavior. It would constitute an implicit acceptance of all the PA’s international commitments including signed agreements such as Oslo, which is the legal framework that created the authority for which elections are held.
There have been several signs recently of a willingness by the opposition to move toward political positions closer to the PA, including the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the borders of 1967. The current ceasefire, no matter how fragile, is another such sign, as are the recent direct and indirect contacts opposition groups have held with some western states.
The inclusion of the opposition groups within the PA will certainly strengthen the Palestinian side and increase its international credibility. This might be among the reasons why Sharon opposes such a development. The continuity of what the international community considers terrorism, however, will provide Sharon with the necessary arguments and excuses to carry on with his strategy of unilateral actions. These include the consolidation of the occupation in the West Bank, especially Jerusalem; the measures that are distorting Palestinian society and hindering its development–such as the extensive restrictions on the movement of people and goods and the disintegration and cantonization of different parts of Palestinian territory; the continued and illegal building of the wall; and the expansion of settlements.
It is important that the international community prevent Sharon from disturbing the democratization process, especially elections and the general process of development within Palestinian society. The continued democratization of Palestinian society–with democracy’s necessary principle of inclusion–as well as social and economic development, are necessary to increase commitment to and faith in a negotiated solution.