Elections in Palestine: Imperialism gets the man they wanted – but can Abbas deliver?

Both Bush and Sharon wanted the moderate Abbas as leader of the Palestinians. They will now put pressure on him to curb the more radical elements in the occupied territories, but so long as the Palestinians are denied their basic rights the conflict will continue to fester.

The final results of the elections in the occupied territories of Palestine, held under Israeli bayonets, showed that Palestine Liberation Organization chief Mahmoud Abbas known as Abu-Mazen, won 62.3 percent of Sunday’s vote for Palestinian Authority chairman. Abbas has been a member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) since 1968 and is the man counted on by the United States, the European Union and Israel to revive the so-called peace process and put an end to the al-Aqsa Intifada.

He has shown his true colors as a pro-imperialist for decades. He led the Palestinian delegation to the negotiations with Israeli General Matityahu Peled, which led to the announcement of principles of peace based on a two-state solution (declared on January 1, 1977).

Abbas also held secret talks with the Israelis through Dutch intermediaries in 1989 and coordinated the negotiation process at the Madrid Conference in 1991.

Besides being the man behind the secret negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords, he also led the negotiations in Cairo, which led to the Gaza-Jericho Accord.

While Washington and London praise him as the Palestinian moderate who is capable of rescuing the peace process, Abbas is often labeled as an Israeli collaborator in many Palestinian circles.

Abbas’ main challenger, Mustafa Barghouti, who pinned his hopes on the European imperialists, won about 20 percent, and five other chairmanship candidates – ranging from small left parties such as the ex-Stalinist “People’s Party” and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine to an academic under U.S. house arrest on suspicion of funneling funds to Hamas – received very few votes.

The PA, fearing a low voter turnout, changed the voting regulations in the last hours of the election. Around 5 P.M. Sunday, the Palestinian Central Election Committee extended the vote casting deadline 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. This prompted the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Mustafa Barghouti camp to claim that there may have been widespread fraud in the election process.

The head of the Palestinian election commission, Hanna Nasir, declared a preliminary turnout of up to 70 percent of the 1.1 million registered voters, as well as 10 percent of the 700,000 Palestinians who failed to register but who were allowed to vote because their names appeared on the census count.

Along with the change to voting procedures that took place midway through the election which kept polling stations open an additional two hours, voters were allowed to cast ballots at any location and not just in their hometowns.

One election official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the changes came due to heavy pressure from Fatah, who feared that a low turnout would weaken the vote for Abbas.

The AFP reported that Abbas received 483,039 votes, while 153,516 people voted for Barghuti, who stood as an independent. Tayssir Khaled, standing for the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) took 3.5 percent of the votes, People’s Party candidate Bassam Salhi 2.69 percent, independent candidate Abdelhalim Al-Ashqar 2.68 percent, Sayyed Barakah (independent Islamist) 1.27 percent and Abdelkarim Shubeir (independent) took 0.67 percent.

According to the main bourgeois newspapers in Israel voters received a mark on their hand with a special ink – but one international observer said that the ink caused major problems in recent elections in Africa and Afghanistan, as it wipes off after an hour or two, so it is possible that many people may have voted more than once.

Contrary to all evidence, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, one of 800 international observers of the election naturally declared that “There is no [Israeli] intimidation I have seen.” Another official U.S. observer, Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Delaware), said Sunday morning that the elections appeared “well-organized.”

According to the imperialist and the Zionist mass media such a massive victory for Abbas would give him a clear mandate to renew peace talks with Israel, with the backing of the US.

Ra’anan Gissin, an aide to Israel Sharon said “I think this vote shows a change in the Palestinian street”, hoping that this will mean that the victory of Abbas will mean a move away from support of violence. He also added that “We certainly welcome this and hope that from this mandate Abu Mazen will lead the Palestinian people on the path of reconciliation.”

US President George W. Bush said he was “heartened” by the Palestinian election. He congratulated Mr. Mazen and said that the election was an essential step toward the ultimate aim of statehood. He promised that the US would play an active role in helping the new president in a renewed push for peace talks with Israel. Bush also said he would welcome Abbas to the White House, offering an invitation that he refused to give to the late Yasser Arafat.

European governments also welcomed Abbas’ election. Messages of congratulations, support, and hope for the future of the peace process were received from Germany, Austria, France, Italy and Russia, and clearly show that Abbas is imperialism’s man in the occupied territories.

Shortly after the results were announced Abu Mazen declared, “There is a difficult mission ahead to build our state, to achieve security for our people ... to give our prisoners freedom, our fugitives a life in dignity, to reach our goal of an independent state.”

However, the true aim of these elections was revealed by Silvan Shalom, the Israeli Foreign Minister, who said openly that the new Palestinian leader should begin to fight “terrorism immediately”. By this he meant that any armed resistance to the Israeli occupation and endless killing of Palestinians should be crushed.

It was in Israel’s interest for the elections to go smoothly, “so that starting from tomorrow, the new Palestinian leadership will be able to do what it is required to do,” Shalom said. “I think that the leader who is elected will have to wage a genuine struggle against terror immediately and carry out reforms [in the PA].”

The Palestinian people are politically demoralized and have had enough of the criminal terrorist tactics which have only led to more death and suffering. Winning elections in these conditions was a relatively easy task for Abbas. But whether he can actually deliver the promises of an independent Palestinian state and the return of the refugees will be another story altogether.

Israel must persuade the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. In order to do this, Israel must ease the oppressive policies towards the Palestinian population and improve their lives. Due to the lack of such concessions coming from Israel, along with the fact that Sharon plans to grab more lands in the West Bank, Abbas will soon be attacked at home as being an agent of imperialism in the services of the Sharon and Bush administrations.

Furthermore, as the Israeli Foreign Minister Shalom made so clear, Israel is unlikely to help Abbas unless he takes direct and immediate action against Hamas and other such organisations. Should he take such action, however, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Al Aqsa Martyrs will work to undermine him.

It is only a question of time, and not very much time, before Abbas will be seen by most Palestinians as the head of a puppet government, just as the Iraqi people view the Interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

The Left in Israel

The leadership of the reformist left in Israel has once again thrown their weight behind the imperialists’ plans. Last week Zo Haderch, the Communist Party weekly, came out with an article praising Abu Mazen and his “sincere struggle for an independent state”. Yahad, the Zionist Social Democratic Party has declared its support for the new Sharon-Labour government.

The victory of Abbas in the elections will not lead to a solution to the problems facing the Israeli and Palestinian masses. The bourgeois press is full of optimism and hope for the future of the peace process, and views the new Sharon-Labour government, and the new Abbas administration in Palestine as the beginning of a new era in the region. Abbas will be exposed as a stooge of imperialism, and the new governments will quickly smash the hopes of the masses and bring only further misery.

The only way out of the death trap for the Palestinians and the Israeli masses is the formation of an independent working class party, which would pursue independent class politics leading to a fundamental transformation of capitalist society. For this the working class requires a completely different leadership, one that is independent of imperialism and is committed to the road of Lenin and Trotsky.

The similarity of the situations facing the people in Israel/Palestine and Iraq is becoming more and more clear to the suffering masses. The role of the rulers of the Arab states in support of the US is being exposed on a daily basis. From this the working class and poor will be able to draw the lesson that the road to be taken is not the road in service of the imperialist order, whose policies are those based on robbery and death, but the road that leads to the foundation of the Socialist Federation of the Middle East.