Palestinian Demands for Its Leaders

On the Israeli side, just like in the more extremist factions of Hamas, there are those who regard the elections in the Palestinian Authority as an Israeli victory.

Adnan al-Kashef, a Palestinian publicist who is not very well known, has a list of 10 demands for whoever is elected president of Palestine. The first nine have to do with restoring life to normalcy in the Palestinian state - reeling in unemployment, bringing corruption under control, creating a genuine checks-and-balances system, and so on - all demands by the citizens for their leaders. Only the final demand calls for safeguarding the right of return for Palestinians and the 1967 borders.

A more famous publicist, Hassan al-Batal, who writes for the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, goes even further. "The seven candidates are competing over the least common denominator ... but none speaks of a confederation with Jordan and Egypt, none dares demand the establishment of a Palestinian Ministry of Absorption, whose role would be to help integrate the 1967 refugees and those who came after the Nakba [catastrophe] of 1948 (after all, in the past some Palestinian experts suggested that the accumulated experience of the Israeli Ministry of Absorption be tapped)."

This sort of dialogue, which addresses demands to the Palestinians themselves, is also in line with comments from Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Although he did speak of the "Zionist enemy," he was adamant in his refusal to retract his sharp criticism of the Qassam rockets. He said the Qassam has hurt Palestinian interests, and his aides have pointed out that no Qassam has succeeded in delineating a new border with Israel.

These statements, pleasant to Israeli ears, are important precisely because they are not meant for Israelis but were written for and by the Palestinians. But it would be an illusion to think that, after the elections, Abu Mazen and the Palestinian leadership will forget the right of return or the question of borders.

It is also possible that the hymn of "the million martyrs marching toward Jerusalem," composed by the late Yasser Arafat, will continue to be heard, but the Palestinians, as far as they are concerned, are turning onto a new path. This turn allows them to say, loudly, that the armed intifada has failed, that the former leadership, that of Arafat, did not succeed in leading them to a solution and that the newly elected leaders should turn the "Palestinian problem" into an internal rather than an external problem, or at least into less of an Arab policy problem - which was Arafat's contribution.

However, this is still a narrow path at the end of which may stand an impervious wall. Because on the Israeli side, just like in the more extremist factions of Hamas, there are those who regard the elections in the Palestinian Authority as an Israeli victory - perhaps even an "American-Zionist" one. There will surely be those who will be tempted to demand complete democratization before Israel agrees to even talk with the Palestinians about the day after the elections. This will be a fatal agreement on the part of Israel, if out of the plethora of declarations for the need for democracy in Palestine an opportunity to make a real contribution to the formation of that same democracy is passed by. This opportunity is built into the willingness to regard the elections in the territories as a strategic development that demands a strategic response from Israel. This strategic change is such that it can no longer be satisfied with the release of several tens or even hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, or with the granting of several more trade licenses or the lifting of a few more roadblocks.

The end of the occupation, no less, is the policy goal that Israel will be asked to offer as the beginning of this new era. After the land of the Gaza Strip was stripped of the title "holy place," after it was realized that it is possible to withdraw from settlements in the northern West Bank, and especially after "the partner" is elected today, it is possible and necessary to enter negotiations seriously for a permanent settlement. Talks that will not allow extremist Palestinian factions to point to Abu Mazen's capitulation and to his feeble policies. Negotiations that will also prove to the Israeli public that the vision of security in exchange for peace is possible. This is the nature of the opportunity that these elections are offering to both Palestinians and Israelis. In the absence of follow-up momentum, these elections will remain an episode that will affect no one besides the Palestinian candidates.