Fatah loses out in West Bank elections; thousands of Jerusalem Arabs want to be Israeli citizens and Palestinians would rather spend their money (and earn it) on Israel’s side of the security barrier! Are we seeing the collapse of the Palestinian Authority along with the two-state solution it was supposed to be promoting?
On October 20th, the PA held its first major round of elections since 2006 when Hamas came out on top in a surprise result. In a shock to the restrictive policies of Fatah, a number of candidates rebelled and stood in opposition to their old party. Unfortunately for Fatah, many of them won as well! There were local municipal elections in 93 areas of the PA and voters were faced with a mix of candidates from Fatah, Fatah rebels and various left-wing parties (no Hamas candidates, since Hamas boycotted the elections). As reported on BBC News, Fatah only won in around 40% of the municipalities and four major towns and cities are now run by non-Fatah mayors and councils (including Ramallah, seat of PA government)!. This is a massive vote of no confidence in the corruption-ridden and oppressive PA regime – and there will be another round of elections in the remaining 82 municipal areas currently under Fatah control. Potentially, by Christmas Fatah could find themselves with hardly anyone in the many towns and villages of the West Bank to govern!
Rubbing salt in the wound of chaotic election results came the news, released by Fatah’s official with the “Jerusalem Portfolio”, that more than 10,000 Jerusalem Arabs had been granted Israeli citizenship. Since Jerusalem is being claimed by the PA for the capital of a Palestinian state, there may not be too many Palestinians left there to be its citizens! This exodus from PA control, against warnings and threats from both Fatah and Hamas, started in 1993 with the Oslo Accords as Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants realised what they would lose if the city came under Palestinian government. Gone would be the top quality health care, access to good jobs and a standard of living unequalled in all the surrounding nations. Add to this the benefits of being part of a democracy and free access through Ben Gurion airport to the rest of the world and you can well understand the eagerness of many Palestinians to get the dark blue passport of Israeli citizenship. The applications have increased in recent years with fears of losing Israeli residence and coming back under PA control.
Just a week before the municipal elections and with unemployment in the PA area running at 17%, Israel increased the number of work permits for Palestinians by 10,000 to 40,000. That’s official permits – it’s believed that up to another 60,000 Palestinians are working in Israel illegally. And many Palestinians work in the “illegal” Israeli settlements in the West Bank as well; an arrangement forbidden by the PA but profitable for both Palestinian workers and settlement employers (but that’s a whole other blog post by itself)!
There are other indications of the impending collapse of the PA, adding to the futility of Mahmoud Abbas’ attempts to move towards a UN-recognised state. For one, the PA is bankrupt. Its Arab donors are letting it down and not paying up. Western donor nations are being pushed to increase donations, yet the PA still pours money into paying imprisoned terrorists salaries instead of its own officials and corruption is as rife as ever. Donors to the PA are pouring their dollars into a big black hole.
After years of rampant corruption, violent gagging of independent Palestinian media outlets and only a chaotic appearance of democracy, the “old guard” PA has lost all credibility on the Palestinian street. This was clearly indicated by the rebellion of so many Fatah candidates in the municipal elections, standing (and winning) as independents against their own political leaaders. Abbas may go back to the UN again this year to apply for an upgrade to his current observer status. But since he has little political credit among his own people, no money to boost his economy and not even agreed borders for his dream state, an independent Palestine remains just that – a dream.
Watch the remaining municipal elections in November carefully. We may well see the practical breakup of the PA regime into semi-autonomous local councils defying edicts from Fatah Central in Ramallah. This could prove beneficial to local citizens as their towns decide their own economic relations with Israel, but fatal to the overall aims of Fatah and the PLO and a total waste of nearly twenty years of “two state” diplomacy.