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Abbas on Democracy? Not Just Now, Please.

Over the weekend, the Palestinian Authority sought to head off any potential blowback from the revolt in Egypt by stating that they would have new elections later this year. But a few days later, after any potential democracy demonstrations had been effectively repressed by the PA in the West Bank and by Hamas in Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas is now saying that new elections are not going to happen.

The PA president, whose own term of office expired long ago without any signs in Ramallah of the need to go through the motions of another vote, announced today that elections were, after all, not possible. His reason is that it wouldn’t work because Gaza is ruled by Hamas as an independent entity.

He’s got a point, but it’s not the one he thinks he’s making. The fact is that holding elections in either the West Bank or Gaza would be a sham of democracy, since the competing parties — Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas — are both violent organizations that rule by intimidation, not persuasion. Any electoral contest between them would be, as it has been in the past, a test of their relative military strengths as much as one of the popularity of their ideas. So long as the culture of Palestinian politics is one in which the primary source of legitimacy is violence and shedding the blood of Israelis, the choice will always be between these two unsavory alternatives. Neither has the will or desire for a peace treaty with Israel.

Under these circumstances, the best we can hope for is a continuation of Prime Minister Salaam Fayad’s Israel-supported state-building and economic development that may someday lead to a sea change in Palestinian society. Until then, the idea of dignifying the undemocratic power lust of either Fatah or Hamas with the imprimatur of elections would be a mockery of democracy, not an affirmation of the concept.



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