The elections taking place today in the Palestinian Authority are fluctuating between two poles: The Israeli occupation and its tremendous involvement in Palestinian lives, and the responsibility that the occupied have for their own lives. The world, led by Israel, loves to forget that the Palestinian parliament and government, despite their respectable name, are not state institutions, and that the PA enclaves are not independent.
The Palestinian parliament and government lack the authority and rights their counterparts have in sovereign states. They have no control over the external and internal borders that Israel draws between the various Palestinian districts, to the point where they are cut off from each other.
Sixty percent of West Bank land, the primary physical resource of the Palestinian people, are under total Israeli control, and no Palestinian government will be able to do with them what sovereign entities do in their territory: sow and plant, build, develop, maintain. Israel controls the water sources in Israel and in effect sets quotas for the Palestinians. Israel's control of the Palestinian population registry and freedom of movement means that it intervenes in personal decisions like family ties, place of residence, work and study. Through its control of the external and internal borders, Israel also determines how the Palestinian economy will look - the rate of unemployment, the salary cap, the types of economic activity, the location of the factories. And that is only a partial list.
All the groups that have candidates running in the election know that the parliamentary process in which they are participating is directed, first and foremost, inward; it relates to the obligations of elected figures, the place of religion in society, the function of the public sector, children's chances of being educated and healthy. The occupation has ceased to be an excuse justifying all malfunctions.
The Fatah movement will be punished, apparently, by a widespread vote for Hamas. The punishment will come not because of Fatah's failure to achieve a state and independence, but due to the cynicism with which many of the movement leaders and those close to them - thanks to their positions in the Oslo process and their improved ties with the Israeli occupier and negotiator - have arranged for themselves a more than comfortable life, while the situation of most of the public has gotten worse.
The anticipated support for Hamas is based on the image of its leaders as honest, not on its political-religious platform or its Qassam output. But the Palestinian voter is taking a major gamble, because he is giving a lot of power to a viewpoint that sees intruding on people's personal lives as a right and an obligation. This is a movement whose members went to the homes of Palestinians killed in the intifada and prevented the mothers from crying over their loved ones because one must be happy that the shahids (martyrs) are in paradise.
The Palestinian voters know well that the ballot slip they choose today will have no influence, not even for the medium term, on the might of the Israeli occupation. But their concern in the elections expresses the approach that it is impossible to blame the occupation for all societal disease, that there are internal matters that the occupied can influence and for which they are responsible, even within the splint of occupation. These matters range from the level of teaching to the potholes that need fixing, from the weakness of judges and policemen because of clannish loyalties, to landlords' evasion of responsibility to tenants; from weddings of 15-year-old girls to the speed with which PA ministries empty out at 2 P.M.; from the widespread use of connections to the inordinate use of antibiotics.
Israelis must not deceive themselves: The Palestinians have not forgotten the occupation. They want to hope that the new candidates, who are supposed to be attentive to their people, will do better than their predecessors in taking advantage of the narrow maneuvering space that even the occupied have in their struggle for freedom. Days will tell whether the new parliament will indeed be able to find methods of struggle that will succeed where negotiations, rifles, explosive belts and unarmed popular activities have failed.
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