Palestinian Elections Could Spell Another Hamas Victory

August 30, 2016 | Elliott Abrams
About the author: Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the chairman of the Tikvah Fund.

On October 8, Palestinians will go to the polls in both the West Bank and Gaza—the first time both territories have had simultaneous elections in over ten years. While Hamas has previously boycotted elections in the West Bank, this time their candidates will participate, and they have a chance of winning. Elliott Abrams compares these elections with those of 2006, which brought Hamas to power in Gaza, and evaluates the implications of the upcoming vote:

[T]he similarities to 2006 are very striking, including the most fundamental one: allowing a terrorist group, Hamas, to contest the election without the slightest nod to stopping its terror or giving up its rule of Gaza. This is wrong for many reasons, but here are the top two.

First, Hamas may win power in a number of West Bank cities, but Fatah will not be able to [field candidates] so freely in elections in Gaza. . . .

Second, those who wish to [participate in] elections should be forced to choose between bullets and ballots. This is what happened in the Northern Ireland agreements, where the IRA had to end its guerrilla and terrorist war and could then run for office. It is a mistake with global implications to allow terrorist groups to have it all: to run for office like peaceful parties, but continue their violent activities. That was the mistake [made in the Palestinian elections of] 2006, and it is being repeated.

There is an argument for holding these elections, of course, and a powerful one. There have been no parliamentary or presidential elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006, and these elections provide at least a taste of democracy. They will tell us a good deal about Palestinian public opinion. And perhaps in some cases they will produce better—meaning, more responsive and competent—municipal governments. But perhaps their clearest achievement will be to show that nothing has changed since 2006 and indeed for decades more: Fatah and Hamas are implacably at odds; Palestinians are split; the Palestinian “national” government and national movement are hopelessly divided; Hamas’s brand of rejectionism and terror remains widely popular; and a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is nowhere in sight.

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