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Factions split on Palestinian way forward

Feb. 13, 2011 10:24 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 14, 2011 9:33 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian factional divides continue as the issue of elections comes into focus in a revolutionary Middle East.

Hamas leaders call for politicians to get closer to their people, but slam PA calls for a vote as impossible given their illegitimacy as a "regime." Meanwhile Fatah continues to accuse Hamas of failing to act in the interests of the people.

Independents and leftists call for unity, and say factions must quit hiding behind their own interests and come out for the people before a revolution hits.

Hamas: West Bank regime just like Mubarak

Hamas leader Aziz Dweik told Ma’an that “first a good will initiative should be launched by the Palestinian Authority to release all of the political prisoners to ease tension in the West Bank, secondly to go immediately to Gaza and to welcome Palestinian effort away from outside intervention from US and Israel and I am ready to go with President Abbas to end the issue of division.”

Dweik said he would not call for the ouster of any party, but rather urge leaders to remain close to the people. "We must benefit from the experiences in Egypt," he said, adding that only isolated leaders were taken out of power.

Despite his call to remain close to the people, Dweik said Hamas continued to oppose elections, saying the leaders which called them cannot perform their democratic duty in seeing the process through.

"The regime in the West Bank is illegitimate, ask the lawyers and the scholars. Article 79 of the Basic Law states that neither the prime minister nor any of the ministers has the right to authorize elections unless they are approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council. That law was canceled by the head of the regime in the West Bank."

In the West Bank, Dweik suggested, "Palestinians are facing what the Egyptians did, with a widening gap between a government and its people over 30 years."

Fatah: Willing to call in observers for a vote

Fatah official and member of the party's top governing body Mohammad Ishtayeh agreed with the need for a "real democracy," saying that democratic representation of the people necessitated new elections.

"What happened in Egypt and Tunis was a return to the people, and we say that we want the people to judge, and the best way to do that is at the ballot box.

"We need the vote in the West Bank and Gaza, to pump new life into the youth and give them a role in the political process."

On accusations that the PA - whose cabinet has been appointed since the 2006 unity government collapsed, and whose president's term ended in 2010 - could not legitimately run such a vote, Ishtayeh said the government would welcome regional or international overseers.

"We want no party whatsoever to be able to justify non-participation in this vote," he said, adding that Abbas was not planning to run again.

Fatah official and PLO member Nabil Shaath said he hoped the wave of change in the Middle East could galvanize rival parties into ending their division.

The Palestinian revolution, he said, should see the youth rally peacefully and demand "that each team present its conditions, and explain why they insist on them."

The people, he added, "must be witness to the unity process."

"We cannot wait for Egypt," which formerly brokered unity talks between the rival factions, he said.

Leadership misreading the street

Political analyst Talal Aukal said all sides had gotten it wrong, explaining that "the Palestinian leadership has not read well the changes that are taking place." An adequate reaction, he said, would be to "start the steps to protect Palestinians from instability, we must have new options."

The most important lesson for the Palestinian leadership, he said, "is to understand that popular uprisings can surprise everyone."

Already, he added, "we know Palestinians are not satisfied with their leadership," and reminded leaders that it was the Palestinians who were the "fathers of the intifada."

Leftists call for revolution

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine member Jamil Mezher echoed Aukal, accusing Fatah and Hamas of "barricading themselves behind factional interests, giving Palestinians no choice but to go for revolution."

The people, he said, "are calling for an end to division, to partisan politics," and the leaders continue to be deaf to the calls.

"Thousands have offered their lives, tens of thousands, have been jailed and injured on our path to freedom and independence. We will not accept the continued failure of our leaders."

Elections, he said are a "democratic way to get rid of hegemony," but said free and fair elections had to be held with the inclusion of all parties if a breakthrough was to be made.

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