The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 3           January 25, 2005  
Abbas elected Palestinian president
U.S., Israeli gov’ts pleased;
48% of Palestinians vote
(front page)
Mahmoud Abbas won the January 9 Palestinian presidential election with 62 percent of the vote against his closest rival’s 20 percent. A victory for Abbas by a large margin had been virtually assured once his most prominent opponent, Marwan Barghouti, dropped out of the race.

Washington and Tel Aviv welcomed the Abbas victory. They approached it as an opportunity to reap benefits from gains the Israeli regime has made the last few years through systematically assassinating hundreds of leaders and cadres of Palestinian armed factions, especially Hamas; building a wall separating Israel from the West Bank; and the social and economic devastation of the occupied territories produced by the Israeli government-imposed restrictions on movement and trade, and state-sponsored theft of Palestinian lands.

Press reports following the election spoke of a “landslide” and “overwhelming” victory, and exaggerated the turnout. Figures provided by the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, however, show that only 48 percent of eligible voters participated in the election. This compares to an 81 percent voter turnout for municipal elections on the West Bank last month, the Washington Post reported. Most media used the percentage of registered voters to claim the turnout was more than 70 percent. According to the BBC, however, only 60 percent of Palestinians eligible to vote in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip had been registered.

U.S. president George Bush said demagogically that the vote was “a historic day for the Palestinian people and the people of the Middle East.”

According to Agence France-Presse, “Before the voting was even over Sunday, a senior aide in Ariel Sharon’s office said the Israeli prime minister was ready to meet the winner—whose identity was never in doubt—‘as soon as possible.’” Sharon subsequently called Abbas to congratulate him for this election and discuss setting up a meeting with the new Palestinian Authority president.

Hundreds of election observers from abroad were on hand to put their stamp of approval on the results. Among them were former U.S. president James Carter and John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in the recent U.S. elections.

Leading up to the vote, Abbas had made clear that the aim of the leading group within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that he represents is to put a formal end to the intifada, or uprising, that began in September 2000. “The use of weapons in the current intifada is damaging and must cease,” he said in a December 14 interview with a London-based, Arabic-language daily. Abbas has been chairman of the PLO since the death in November of longtime PLO leader Yasir Arafat.

Tel Aviv has been gaining ground in its assault on armed Palestinian groups that have been at the center of the resistance to the Israeli occupation over the past four years.

On January 4, the Israeli spy agency Shin Bet reported that there was a sharp decline in 2004 of successful armed attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. A total of 117 Israelis died in attacks, a decline of 45 percent from the year before, Shin Bet said. The Associated Press reported that 796 Palestinians were killed in armed attacks in 2004. A total of 1,016 Israelis and 3,414 Palestinians have been killed in the four years of warfare.

Shin Bet reported that there were 15 suicide attacks carried out in 2004, a drop from 26 the year before, while 365 attacks were thwarted.

One of the reasons the spy agency cites for the decline in attacks is Tel Aviv’s construction of large sections of a more than 400-mile wall that will redraw the map of the West Bank.  
New Israeli gov’t coalition
The day after the Palestinian election, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, approved 58 to 56 a coalition government headed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of the Likud Party. Six members of parliament abstained in the vote. The government now includes the Labor Party. Its central leader, Shimon Peres, will be the administration’s Vice Premier.

Israeli officials viewed the Palestinian election as a step forward for their plans. “There is a new legitimate Palestinian leadership whose leaders definitely are against terror and war,” Peres said, praising Abbas.

The basis for the new coalition is Labor’s support for Sharon’s “disengagement” plan, under which Tel Aviv would grant secondary concessions to the Palestinians with the aim of consolidating the long-term viability of Israel as a junior imperialist power in the Middle East. Sharon has proposed withdrawing the 7,500 Israeli settlers from the occupied Gaza Strip and dismantling a few minor settlements on the West Bank—while maintaining the largest settlement blocs, refusing to accept the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and maintaining control over Jerusalem.

The election of a Palestinian Authority president that the Israeli government can “work with” marks another step in the “peace” process between Tel Aviv and the PLO that started with the 1993 Oslo accord. This process has been the product of the inability of the Israeli rulers to crush the Palestinian resistance, on the one hand, and the PLO leadership’s increasingly bourgeois course, on the other—turning its eyes away from the ranks of the fighting Palestinian people and toward accommodation with Washington, bourgeois Arab regimes in the region, and ultimately Tel Aviv.

Since the intifada began, groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad—bourgeois organizations that advocate “driving the Jews into the sea” and establishing an “Islamic republic” in Palestine—claimed the mantle of the armed struggle, focusing on suicide bombings and targeting mostly civilians in Israel.

Tel Aviv has used this reality to target these groups with virtual impunity, and to rationalize its attacks against any Palestinian who dares resist the Israeli occupation as part of “fighting terrorism.”

Hamas and Islamic Jihad called for a boycott of the presidential elections but did not attempt to disrupt them.

The Israeli campaign of assassinations of Hamas and other armed groups has worn down and sparked divisions within these organizations. Hamas spokesperson Mushir al-Masri said after the elections, “We will work with Mahmoud Abbas in what we believe is a sensitive coming period,” AFP reported. Hamas fielded candidates in the December municipal elections, and plans to do so again in parliamentary elections in July.

The Israeli government, for its part, eased some restrictions on Palestinian movements in the West Bank and Gaza because it hoped for a large voter turnout to boost the “legitimacy” of the Abbas administration. Tel Aviv removed some military checkpoints to allow voters to reach polling stations. And, during the campaign, it allowed Abbas freedom of movement to campaign throughout the occupied territories. In contrast, Abbas’s predecessor, Yasir Arafat, had been confined by the Israeli military for years to the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank headquarters.

Lesser-known candidates, however, faced harassment by the occupation forces. Mustafa Bargouthi, a doctor who was backed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and came in second in the presidential race, was detained by Israeli police while campaigning in Jerusalem and beaten along with supporters at a checkpoint outside of Jenin. He was allowed to enter Gaza, but his campaign aides were not. Palestinian Peoples Party candidate Bassam Salhi was also detained while campaigning in East Jerusalem.

In East Jerusalem, however, Israeli forces restricted the movement of Palestinian voters, the Washington Post reported. While 5,400 Palestinians were permitted to vote at post offices within the boundaries of the city, “about 115,000 voters from East Jerusalem were required to cast ballots at 12 polling stations outside the city,” the Post said, creating a turnout it called “extraordinarily low.”

By mid-afternoon January 9, Palestinian officials in major West Bank cities were complaining that few Palestinians had come out to vote. The elections director in Ramallah told reporters that only 43 percent of those eligible nationally had gone to the polls, while Sana Amad, the elections director in Nablus, said only 400 of 1,840 registered there had voted. “The feeling here is that the situation is not going to change and that none of the candidates can change it,” Amad told the Washington Post. “It’s very pessimistic.”

Worried about the credibility of the result, Palestinian officials relaxed voting regulations, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported January 10. “Around 5 p.m. Sunday, the Palestinian Central Election Committee extended the voting to 9 p.m. and also allowed Palestinians to vote solely based on their identity cards, without any need to check them against the voter roll or population registry,” said Ha’aretz.

“I did not vote, because this election is designed to support the American plan for the Middle East,” said Ziyad Abbas, co-director of the Ibdaa Cultural Center in the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, in a January 11 phone interview with the Militant. “This is a vote under military occupation—like the election in Afghanistan and the upcoming vote in Iraq. It is to provide cover for the American and Israeli agenda. In our case it’s a little different because it is an Israeli, not American occupation. But the design of ‘democracy’ is the same.”

Ziyad Abbas said that just an hour before the interview, Israeli troops had assassinated an Al-Aqsa Brigades member in the West Bank town of Tulkarem. The Israeli government “is planning new attacks in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “They want to destroy Palestinian factions, dismantle our military structures, and set them back 10 years.”

In the lead-up to the elections, Israeli troops continued offensive operations in the Gaza Strip. In one attack January 4, an Israeli tank shell killed seven Palestinians working in a strawberry patch in Gaza, many of them children. Mahmoud Abbas received a rebuke from Washington and Tel Aviv for referring to the Israeli forces that fired the shell as the “Zionist enemy” during a campaign stop in Gaza.

On January 11, Tel Aviv announced plans to begin construction of a trench along the southern border of the Gaza Strip aimed at stopping tunnels used by armed groups to smuggle weapons into the territory. The dugout will involve demolishing up to 3,000 homes in the Rafah refugee camp along the frontier with Egypt.  
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