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Left-wing Palestinian parties join forces for upcoming elections

Five parties announced the establishment of the ‘Democratic Alliance’ that will run in the upcoming municipal elections. The goal: a third party option to Fatah and Hamas.

Local elections in the West Bank in 2012. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Local elections in the West Bank in 2012, in which left-wing parties received less than 10% of votes. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Five left-wing Palestinian parties in the occupied territories announced they will run on a joint list in the upcoming municipal elections. Elections are expected to take place on October 8th in over 300 municipalities, village councils, and regional councils in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The parties, which will run together under the name the “Democratic Alliance,” have not ruled out the possibility that this will be the first step in forming a similar alliance on a national level.

Senior officials of the five parties are trying to position the leftist bloc as an alternative to Fatah and Hamas, which will focus on both the unity of the Palestinian struggle against the occupation and, yes, on social justice. Namely, equality between men and women (the alliance is committed to ensuring that at least 30 percent of its representatives are women) and resistance to corruption.

The platform also includes support for full access to electricity, water, social services, infrastructure, lighting, and free public parks. According to some members of the party, the alliance drew inspiration from the establishment of the Joint List during the last elections to the Knesset.

Counting on undecided voters

Should they take place, these will be the first municipal elections in the occupied territories to succeed. The 2005 elections were not completed in full and elections in 2012 only took place in the West Bank, as they were boycotted by Hamas in Gaza. It will also be the first electoral event shared by the West Bank and Gaza in a decade, since Hamas’ victory in the general elections of 2006, its rise to power in Gaza, and the ensuing rift between both parties. Hamas’ participation in the upcoming elections, and its concurrent presence in both Gaza and the West Bank, is seen as a positive sign toward mending the rift.

Although they ran independently, each of the left-wing parties partook in those same elections, reaching a little less than ten percent of electoral support. The latest poll conducted by Khalil Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that were general elections to be held today, Fatah would win by 34 percent, Hamas by 31 percent, and left-wing parties (independently) by 9 percent, while around 26 percent of voters remain undecided. In an interview with +972’s Hebrew sister-site, Local Call, members of the left-wing alliance say they anticipate significant support from undecided voters, who wish to relay a message against division and in favor of a third way.

The new Democratic Alliance is comprised of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (the largest of the five parties), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian National Initiative (recently established with a focus on resistance to corruption and support for national struggles against the wall), the Palestinian People’s Party (a tiny communist party allied with Israel’s Communist Party), and the Democratic Union (FIDA, which split from the Democratic Front in the early 90s). These parties will be joined by independent political activists who identify with the alliance’s platform.

“There is a great need in our society for a democratic left-wing alliance that will provide an alternative to other political forces, promoting a program of equality between women and men,” says Khalida Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh accompanies Palestinian legislator Khalida Jarrar as she leaves Israeli prison after serving a 15-month sentence. (photo courtesy of the Joint List)

Joint List head Ayman Odeh accompanies Palestinian legislator Khalida Jarrar as she leaves Israeli prison after serving a 15-month sentence. (Photo courtesy of the Joint List)

Jarrar was recently released from an Israeli prison after a little over 14 months for political activities such as participating in demonstrations, giving speeches at conferences, meetings with prisoners’ families, and more. Prior to her imprisonment she was well known as a prominent activist for women’s rights and Palestinian prisoners, as well as a critic of the security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “The attempt began in university for some of us, whereupon we were able to establish such an alliance,” says Jarrar. “This is another clear step in that direction — perhaps the beginning of something even bigger that will reach the national level. In the meantime we are focusing on the local level, on which we also need to provide our citizens with services free of corruption, making the government more accessible and providing services primarily for the poor, while protecting land from confiscation and residents of Area C from the occupation. This coalition is an important step for a healthy political balance within our society, and I am very optimistic about it.”

“We believe that a large majority seeks a third way in the division between Fatah and Hamas,” adds legislative council member Mustafa Barghouti, founder and head of the Palestinian National Initiative. “We are walking along the path of the Joint List of Palestinians from ’48, we wish to follow their successful model to provide Fatah and Hamas with an example of how unity can be achieved.”

“These elections are very important in general, and their very existence lays foundations to mend the rift between the West Bank and Gaza, which will hopefully lead to national and presidential elections,” Barghouti adds. “Most important, they return people’s long lost right to vote and to influence those who lead them. It is refreshing and infuses political parties with energy, which is a worthy goal in and of itself.”

Palestinian leftist parties take part in a protest against the power crisis in Gaza, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinian leftist parties take part in a protest against the power crisis in Gaza, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Elected officials detained

Alongside the optimism, candidates emphasize Israel’s deeply felt influence leading up to the elections. Recent news items have covered the Civil Administration’s efforts to encourage traders and others in good relations with Israel to run in the elections, conversations coordinating between Israel and the PA security services, and the recent arrests of political activists and candidates from Hamas and other factions.

“One of the main questions that this election will raise is with whom does Israel work, and how to vote against them,” Arif Jafal, a political analyst and CEO of Al Marsad, an independent Palestinian NGO in Ramallah that oversees the elections and promotes democracy, tells Local Call. “All such cooperation weakens Fatah, and strengthens those running against them. In the previous national elections Israel served Hamas more than its own election campaign.”

Jafal indicated that the elections could shift power relations among local authorities. Aside from areas clearly identified with one of the parties, there are cities where the Democratic Alliance could become a major power (particularly in Bethlehem, Ramallah and Tulkarem), as well as places where Fatah or Hamas will be compelled to build coalitions with others to manage the local government. “In local elections, alongside Fatah, Hamas, and now the Democratic Alliance, family lists are also running independently. Fatah or Hamas will need to cooperate with the left-wing alliance or with families to control the councils.”

Amidst the elections in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian public debate has recently revolved around the lack of elections in East Jerusalem, the intended future capital of the Palestinian state. In an article published in the Al-Quds daily, Mustafa Barghouti called for all the lists — the Alliance, Fatah and Hamas — to try to hold the elections in East Jerusalem through a consensus list, which will held exclusively in the city. “This is a message to create facts on the ground in the face of strong Israeli pressure through use of nonviolent tools,” said Barghouti in an interview.

The Democratic Alliance isn’t likely to become a major force in the coming elections. Though if the elections take place successfully and the alliance is able to sustain itself (establishing itself as a third party that can serve to check and balance Fatah and Hamas on local and national levels) — and if Israel doesn’t suppress the list (as it has done to political activists and members of the legislative council for years) — it will be wonderful news. If all this happens, and the Joint List is indeed a source of inspiration for left-wing parties as some activists say, then it seems the Palestinian Left may also have Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to thank for raising the election threshold in the Knesset, forcing Israel’s Arab parties to unite.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. R5

      Nothing says “Democratic” like two USSR-inspired, rejectionist terrorist organizations. Depending on how strong their “armed wing” is, I guess we’ll see (per Hamas circa 2006) which party is the most “popular” when the dust settles.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        R5: You trot out a fascinating concatenation of cynicism, name calling and cliches. Because the last thing one would want is creative political evolution and nonviolence. What a horror.

        Create “facts on the ground”? The nerve of those people. I mean, Israelis would never do that, right?

        Reply to Comment
    2. R5

      Ben: You thought my comment was fascinating? Thanks! I’d absolutely love the Palestinians evolve politically to the point where they can protect a peaceful border with Israel. But as long as Iran has a proxy in the territories, that will not happen. The gun, not the ballot, will have the final word in any power struggle.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      Yes, yes, before we make peace they have to endorse the Nation State of the Jewish People, they need to magically transform Iran and its proxies, there has to be world peace, global warming must be reversed and sea levels fall, and aliens from Mars must finally arrive and act as intermediators. The burden is on the Palestinians to engineer these things. Because we are so helpless. And our security depends on all these extraneous factors. I mean we, who are not shy about telling the world how innovative and resourceful we are, are utterly helpless when it comes to fostering peace. We have never done anything so horribly difficult as fostering conditions for lasting peace with a tiny group of people whom we occupy and have total control over. But spending vast resources and efforts on persecuting them day and night to make them feel constantly chased, in order to facilitate and protect a band of narcissistic land thieves and racist overlords, why that’s a snap, no problem. Now I understand.

      Reply to Comment
    4. R5

      Ben: would love to read what you think the West Bank looks like one year after a complete Israeli withdrawal that hypothetically occurs in a week’s time. No? Don’t want to answer that one? Didn’t think so.

      Reply to Comment
    5. i_like_ike52

      Considering that the peaceful transference of power between competing political parties is almost unknown in the Arab world (Tunisia seems to be the exception) these Leftist activists are tilting at windmills if they think they are going to have any real political influence.
      Political power in the Palestinian society does NOT come from political activism, it comes from the armed militias. They are the ones who ultimately decide policy. After all, FATAH and HAMAS can not come to any agreement on how to run a Palestinian government, so how can a small group of Leftist whose ideology is far from those of HAMAS and FATAH going accomplish anything.
      It should be noted that multiparty elections are NOT the first step in forming a functioning democracy, they are the LAST. Britain and the US were the first countries to build true democracies, but it was only in the 20th century that both truly democratized their electoral systems by giving all people the right to vote. However, it was centuries before that that human rights and restrictions on the power of the government over the population began to be recognized, even though only a small part of the population had the right to vote. Neither the Palestinians nor most of the rest of the Arab world have even BEGUN to build the type of civil society based on human rights and restrictions on the government’s power that is necessary for the creation of a true democracy. Thus, the Palestinians can have all the “free elections” they want, but nothing will really change and those who are now in power won’t give it up no matter what the electorate says it wants.

      Reply to Comment
    6. i_like_ike52

      Quite amusing. You claim that it is Israel that hasn’t fostered a climate of peace? Really?
      The Palestinians don’t even have a constitutional government and power is split between two hostile entities, HAMAS in Gaza and FATAH in the West Bank and yet you think THEY can make peace with Israel? What about their Arab/Muslims butchering each other in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, etc. The Arab world can’t live in peace with itself but you think they are really offering peace to their Jewish/Zionist enemies in Israel if only Israel would take it?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Duh

      The Palestinians can’t make peace with Israel because Israel has the power to engineer their living situation. It’s like asking the shtetl to make peace with St. Petersburg.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ben

      Well, what about, what about, what about…. The Arab Peace Initiative is a stable, stably presented, stably offered, honest, good faith initiative by stable countries. You cooperate over Iran with them quite readily, but cooperating with them over Palestine is suddenly beyond your abilities. You swoon. Lassitude and fainting spells. Break out in hives. Sudden inexplicable incompetence. (Ditto with the African refugees by the way.) What is really going on is explained here:


      And note also the accurate comments of Murphy and Schmitt below the article.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ben

      Orly Noy’s article on the water crisis in the West Bank, a situation in which less than half the people between the river and the sea take 80% of the water for themselves just because they feel entitled to it and they can get away with it (and the percentage the incredibly selfish settlers hog (actually, steal) if we just consider the West Bank inhabitants is much greater still) is met with whining about how the occupied Palestinians don’t fix leaky pipes and BS about exploitative Oslo accord stipulations that should have ended years ago. Encapsulates perfectly Israeli entitlement and arrogance and dishonest game playing. Then Eitan Kalinsky shows how outright ethnic cleansing by water is going on in the Jordan Valley. But no complaining from the hasbara crowd follows about leaky morality not being fixed. The use of water deprivation and other weapons as slow ethnic cleansers is in fact going on all over the West Bank in one form or another to the degree the Israelis think they can currently get away with it. But those damn occupied Palestinians won’t fix leaky pipes. The nerve of those people.

      “It’s like asking the shtetl to make peace with St. Petersburg.”

      Very nicely put.

      Reply to Comment
    10. R5

      Ben: Haha, you think the Arab Peace Initiative would create a stable situation in the West Bank? The GCC couldn’t support a viable opposition to Hezbollah in Lebanon, even though much of the country is not Hezbollah’s constituency. But you think they could (in perpetuity) support the PA, which is far less popular and more corrupt that March 14th coalition? And when Hamas has far more popular support by comparison? Do you read geopolitical analysis? Because you’re referencing a hit piece on Netanyahu which doesn’t discuss the merits of the Arab Peace Initiative or its viability in the near future. I suggest you undertake at least some serious reading before debating this.

      Reply to Comment
    11. i_like_ike52

      The Arab “Peace initiative” is a fraud that the Saudis put out after the 9/11 attacks in order to partially pacify American anger at the Saudis for their involvement in the attacks on the WTC and other locations. It has NOTHING to do with “peace”. It essentially calls for an unlimited “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees which is completely unacceptable. Neither the Saudis nor anyone else has ever had an attempt to sell it to the Israeli public, except for a few newspaper ads a few years ago. In any case, how can the Saudis’speak for all the other Arab and Muslim countries in supposedly promising some sort of relations of Israel with all of them. Who represents Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya and all the other Arab/Muslim countries that are wracked with internal violence. For that matter, the Palestinians don’t have a constitutional gov’t that can negotiate with Israel. Do the Saudis speak for HAMAS, or for Iran?

      Reply to Comment
    12. Ben

      The Israeli response in 2007 to the historic API was both total indifference plus gross misrepresentation by Ehud Olmert of the API as a take it or leave it diktat and the average Israeli repeats that propaganda to this day. The API offered Israel the outline of an agreement in its strategic interest–unless of course it calculates its strategic interest, as it apparently does, to be annexation of Greater Israel and continued unrecognized annexation of East Jerusalem. It is an offer the founders of Israel would have embraced and negotiated with vigor. It is all too apparent that the goals of the current Israeli leadership have diverged and that their goals now include a complete rejection of two states and at the very least, interminable “management of the conflict” in the service of creeping annexation. Israel looks for problems not solutions. Good luck with that.

      Reply to Comment
    13. R5

      Ben: How is a withdrawal from the West Bank right now in Israel’s strategic interest, when the strongest political and military force in the territories is Hamas, and it’s Iranian patrons are only getting stronger as the US and its allies lose influence over the region? Again, would love to hear some actual analysis of what makes sense to do from your POV, rather that just criticism of Bibi, Barak, etc…

      Reply to Comment