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Constant war and terrorism.
A never ending cycle of corruption.
For Palestine, this is the norm. Democracy is nothing more than a fleeting dream, a fruitless act of faith with little probability for success. Tomorrow is an uncertainty. Under military occupation, this is the vicious cycle that Palestinians are stuck inside.
Is democracy possible under military occupation?
Elections have been a foreign concept for the last 15 years in Palestine, which is why it comes as a surprise that President Abbas recently announced presidential elections will be held on July 31st, 2021. Hosting elections means giving everyone a vote and therefore representation. However, recalling the aftermath of the 2006 elections, it should not come as a surprise that elections were not welcome as the glorified, renewed advent of democracy. Israel’s imposition of sanctions in 2006 in response to the victory of Hamas, as well as the withholding of customs revenues from the Palestinian Authority was inexcusable. To an international audience, the arrest of Hamas officials whose only crime was practicing freedom of speech is considerably ironic. For Fatah, who were forced to turn their back on their countrymen, Hamas, the elections in 2006 led to divisions in Palestine. Although both groups saw the military occupation by Israel as a flagrant injustice, Fatah equally saw Hamas’s very existence as a threat to its belief in peaceful coexistence.
Ideological incompatibility. A deeper divide.
Nevertheless, Hamas’ ultimate intention is liberation, and as many resonated with that intention, it is an act of tyranny to take away that political will. Take away sheer determination to survive and live to fight another today, what else is Palestine left with? Already, we are seeing Israel pursue its same line of action as 15 years ago. A presumed anti-terrorist rhetoric becomes convenient to justify the obstruction of democracy. I ask you, how can democracy persist, if freedom of speech is dead?
“A never ending cycle of corruption” : It seems that even the elections this time invariably become tainted by these malevolent seeds of oppression. As a shopper in Qalqilya, a city in the West Bank, says in response to this concept of democracy, “We’re only allowed democracy if the West likes our choices” (Knell, 2015). This view characterizes the close relations between Israel and its allied nation, the United States. Ultimately, we see that democracy in Palestine devolves into an imposition of Israel and the West’s will; or the West’s version of democracy.
How is the United States relevant to democracy in Palestine?
On the 21st of January, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. Previously, President Donald Trump narrowed his focus to “America First”, believing nationalism to be principal in driving foreign policy. However, Biden articulates a human rights rhetoric, wishing to re-establish his country’s moral authority (Wadi, 2021).
Donald Trump’s effects were not limited to the domestic realm. Although there was plenty of evidence provided by the Human Rights Watch to the claim of Israel’s human rights violations, little to no action has been done by the US to thwart Israel’s injustices against Palestinians. Taking Biden’s presumed stance with a grain of salt, a reversal of Trump’s policies in Palestine is principal for democracy (Abuirshaid, 2021). The 180-pages proposal rejected a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, instead offering a capital on the outskirts of the city. Although this plan was temporarily suspended by the Israel-UAE agreement, the fact that democracy in Palestine can be decided by a conference between Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is deplorable. The consent of the people was akin to falling on deaf ears, in the wake of the West’s triumph. For this, imperialism is very much alive today, as western subjugation manifests itself in modern day diplomacy. A classic example of Thrasymachus’ belief that “Justice is the advantage of the stronger” invariably becomes the result.
Palestine having the ability to establish its own democracy without foreign support becomes nothing but a pipe dream. At the moment, despite Biden’s grand ambitions to correct the US’ human rights rhetoric, his decision to keep the US Embassy in Jerusalem shows little promise for defending democracy in Palestine. The US continues to play the role as an ally to Israel in the conflict, rather than an intermediary.
The seeds have been planted, but the sun does not shine over Palestine.
Why is democracy so important?
Answers to this question almost always devolve into vague, generic responses with little context. Simply put, we think democracy is good because everyone else thinks it is good. We naturally fear the unknown so as citizens in democracies, we put our faith in a system that has upheld our lavish, comfortable lives. In modern day democracies, many of us who are privileged take democracy for granted, while we choose to ignore the suffering of our human counterparts across the Mediterranean.
Man is condemned to be free – Jean-Paul Sartre
However, freedom is not a privilege. It is the right and proof that we live and have a place in this world. We innately seek freedom because we were born into this world. We were born free – not to be bred like cattle; not to be doves trapped in a cage, slowly awaiting our impending doom. Elections can be the renewed beginning of freedom and once again fan these embers of hope in Palestine. For this, Biden’s next line of action is paramount to verifying his own rhetoric. It is his chance to reaffirm the values championed by Wilson, to raze the US’ lineage of opportunism to the ground; deciding to be a democracy only when they want to be a democracy. Otherwise, perhaps democracy in Palestine will truly be dead if Israel’s actions transgress further. For this, there is incredible pressure on Biden to act.
What happens if elections fail or flourish?
If the elections flourish, the conflict may end once and for all. Elections are a first step towards achieving democracy, and can begin by helping to mend relations between Fatah and Hamas. It is an oversimplification to expect words alone to lead to understanding and reconciliation, but there is no other option. Unity is a necessary condition to further efforts for peace.
On the flip side, if it fails, then it reaffirms the powerlessness of democracy in Palestine. Rather than attempting to find some sort of hope in this situation of despair, it becomes clear that radical approaches must be taken. We could see a greater turn towards radicalism by Palestinians, when negotiations no longer seem possible. For this, perhaps when there is a great injustice that cannot be defeated through just methods, one must stain their hands with sin to become a greater injustice. Only a greater injustice can defeat an injustice.
Wadi, Ramona., 2021. Biden’s brand of democracy isolates the Palestinians. Middle East Monitor. Available at: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20210311-bidens-brand-of-democracy-isolates-the-palestinians/.
Ouattara, Alssane., 2021. Elections under fire: Palestine’s impossible democracy dilemma. Jordan Times. Available at: https://www.jordantimes.com/opinion/ramzy-baroud/elections-under-fire-palestines-impossible-democracy-dilemma.
Anon, 2020. How Israeli and Palestinian authorities, and Facebook are increasingly suppressing media in Palestine. IFEX. Available at: https://ifex.org/how-israeli-and-palestinian-authorities-and-facebook-are-increasingly-suppressing-media-in-palestine/.
Isaac, J.C. et al., 2017. Is There Illiberal Democracy? Public Seminar. Available at: https://publicseminar.org/2017/07/is-there-illiberal-democracy/.
Knell, Y., 2015. How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish. BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30883917.
Magid, J. et al., 2021. US announces it’s renewing relations with Palestinians, seeking 2-state solution. The Times of Israel. Available at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/biden-to-reopen-palestinian-diplomatic-offices-restore-aidsays-us-envoy-to-un/.
Anon, 2006. Middle East | Israel to impose Hamas sanctions. BBC News. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4729000.stm.
Abuirshaid, Osama., 2021. Biden’s democratic values must also apply to Palestine. Middle East Eye. Available at: https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/biden-democratic-values-must-apply-palestine.
Anon, 2021. Palestine’s impossible democracy dilemma. Arab News. Available at: https://www.arabnews.com/node/1822136.
Anon, freedom Drawing: Freedom art, Freedom drawing, Street art banksy. Pinterest. Available at: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/494833077789193636/.
By Gabriel Chow
Gabriel examines the recent decision by President Abbas to host elections in Palestine, emphasizing the importance of freedom for Palestinians.