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Democracy is the need of the hour for the Palestinian struggle

Ismail Haniyeh is the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, and the former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister. This article was first published by Anadolu Agency, and has been edited for MEMO. The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

Hamas is currently participating in the Cairo dialogue with our brothers from Fatah and the other Palestinian factions and national figures. Our delegation is strengthened by the resolve to ensure that a comprehensive agreement is reached. As the chairman of Hamas I would like to set out our position and vision as we press ahead on this promising path towards unity, partnership and liberation.

The main goal of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement — Hamas — is the ongoing struggle against the Zionist occupation to free our people from the shackles of the occupation and realise their legitimate right to liberate all of occupied Palestine, and achieve their self-determination to live in freedom and dignity. The goal includes an independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital, to which refugees may return to the land from which they were displaced, and where they can build a political system on the foundations of justice and democracy.

Free and fair elections are a means of allowing people to exercise their right to choose their representatives in various bodies, institutions and leadership positions. As such, the conduct and democratic principles of elections underline the political work of Hamas, whether internally for its own structures or in the overall Palestinian political situation.

The movement demonstrated its commitment to such principles recently in the first stage of its internal elections in Gaza. The results were met with respect for the will of its members to choose the membership of the Hamas consultative and executive institutions. Votes were cast by those imprisoned by the occupation, and will continue as planned in the West Bank and abroad.

Hamas believes in strengthening national unity and turning the page of division in order to maximise Palestinian potential. This is an essential step for mobilising the Arab and Islamic world to overcome the schemes of the Zionist expansion in the region, especially with regional and international powers rushing to legitimise the occupation of our land. They are out to create a hegemonic state in the region by signing normalisation agreements that ignore our basic rights and reshape the definition of regional friends and enemies by contradicting the facts of history and geography.

The upcoming elections open the door to choosing a new Palestinian leadership capable of engaging in a political process to solve the conflict that guarantees our rights and promotes security and stability in the region and around the world. They will also confer legitimacy upon the leadership.

For Hamas, the participation of our members in elections, including those in the diaspora as well as within occupied Palestine, revives the dream of freedom, independence and a return to our land. The movement has taken part actively in trade union and student elections, believing in the centrality of the idea of democratic change through the ballot box. We took a positive view of the various elections called by the Palestinian Authority and participated in the 2005 municipal elections, with commendable results. We won the majority of seats in the legislative council election in 2006 that was certified by regional and international institutions as free and fair.

In talks with Fatah last year about holding elections, Hamas made many concessions to pave the way for them to take place. Many Palestinian factions and organisations have welcomed this.

Although the “Eight Factions Initiative”, approved by Hamas, was presented in September 2019, the process did not start for reasons I am not going to go into here. Suffice to say that there was at the time an urgent need to unify the Palestinian position, as the US pressure to terminate the Palestinian issue through the ominous “Deal of the Century” was at its fiercest.

Nevertheless, our position on the elections has remained positive. The movement has demonstrated its flexibility, broadening horizons for the launch of the electoral processes and the presidential election decrees.

Roadmap for completing the electoral process

From the beginning, Hamas insisted that the election process should be preceded by a serious and responsible national dialogue that lays out a roadmap for completing it in three stages: the legislative council, the presidency and the national council.

Dialogue should be launched to overcome the obstacles that may hinder this national path and for everyone to assume their historical responsibilities towards national elections that empower the Palestinian people. We must not allow their inherent right to choose their political and other representatives to be impeded or removed by any individual or entity, or in any way.

We have done all that was required of us in the first round of dialogue, both honestly and responsibly. I would also like to express our satisfaction with the positive spirit of our brothers in the Fatah leadership. Hamas is fully prepared to complete the process of dialogue and implement what is agreed upon nationally to complete the democratic process for the benefit of the Palestinian people.

Our movement wants these elections to be the first step in putting the Palestinian house in order and rebuilding a political system that responds to the challenges we all face in a way that no political dispute of the magnitude that we have faced for so many years is allowed to develop again. Our political system should be able to absorb and cope with differences and disagreements that may arise and deal with the changes that affect the political situation in terms of behaviour and institutions.

To achieve the national goals encompassed by these elections, Hamas has determined that its preferred option is to participate in the legislative election on a unified national list that includes the widest possible political spectrum. This should be based on preserving national rights as confirmed by the National Accord Document and the outcomes of the factions’ secretaries-general meeting last year.

After that, a unity government can be formed based on Palestinian law, in which all can be involved, even those who did not participate in the legislative council election. Such a government can then manage the rest of the electoral process, supervise the removal of all residues of the division, and adopt a path for real reconciliation for everyone.

It is not possible to talk about arranging and solidifying the Palestinian situation without all sections of our people, including internally displaced persons, refugees and those in the wider diaspora. The arrangement whereby only those Palestinians still inside occupied Palestine can participate is surely unacceptable.

The Palestinian diaspora is an integral part of who we are; the people have paid the price of their displacement from their land for decades. They are at the heart of the legitimate right of return, and they constitute one of the most critical aspects of the conflict with the occupation.

New Palestinian National Council

Hence, Hamas believes that the elections should culminate in the formation of a new national council, as a starting point to rebuild the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) along democratic lines, and to renew its institutions based on a partnership inclusive of all factions as the representative of all the Palestinian people. Furthermore, it should manage the political conflict with the occupying power, take the Palestinian cause to all forums regionally and internationally, and act according to the comprehensive national framework.

Upon completing the process of building the political system at the level of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO through the elections, we need to include all factions, elected institutions and community bodies in arguably the most important stage and goal of the various electoral processes. This is the formulation of a comprehensive, unified and integrated strategy for the struggle to achieve the objectives of our people, which include liberation and a return to their land.

This strategy should be based on the principle of legitimate resistance in all its forms and using all means available to our people to end the occupation of our land. This includes armed resistance, but with a focus on popular resistance at this stage.

Responsibilities for this need to be redistributed, taking into account the capabilities of each party and institution, and its specialisation and capacity in various areas. All of the energies of our people need to be harnessed to achieve the goals and aspirations of the people of Palestine.

Based on all this, Hamas believes that the elections are a serious national way forward providing space to arrange the Palestinian situation in a truly participatory manner. In this, the will of the people is supreme and regulates our work in all stages to complete the tasks ahead. We will reject any and every move that disrupts or obstructs this path.

There is a debate among the political elites about the effectiveness of the elections. Are they, it is asked, a means to end the division to achieve unity or simply another source of division?

Every opinion has its merits, but in the situation in which we are living we do not necessarily take the conventional position, especially since we have since the beginning of the division tried various ways to overcome it. So let the elections be an entry point and a means to achieve an end that is beyond the election process itself.

Our task today is not limited to how this path is evolving, but rather how this path succeeds, and we are proceeding with sincerity and commitment to implement all that has been agreed upon. We have now crossed the Rubicon, and there is no going back.