The announcement of new presidential and parliamentary elections by Mahmud Abbas has plunged the people of Palestine, already suffering dreadfully from the terror spread by the Israeli army, into a series of bloody clashes. We have recorded the story of Ali, *a 35-year-old father of eight, who lives with his family in the cauldron known as the Gaza Strip. His worries are in contrast to the optimism and satisfaction with which the news of the new elections was presented to the world by Palestinian representatives such as Elias Senbar**
Mahmoud Abbas with Ehud Olmert
“What is happening here is appalling. Mahmud Abbas’s announcement of new elections has caused Gaza to explode. It’s a decision that has plunged us into uncertainty, and those who voted for the Hamas government have simply gone wild. We stay at home and don’t move. We’re frightened of going out, frightened of getting caught in a clash. And when our children go to school, our fear is that we won’t see them again. So far, 90% of those killed and injured have been passers-by, people who had nothing to do with the battles between Fatah and Hamas. It’s a terrible situation.
Mahmud Abbas has no right to call new elections before four years are up. All he is allowed to do is to ask the Legislative Council to consent to the government’s resignation. And from that point on, all he could do would be to ask for the formation of another government. Mahmud Abbas has behaved like a dictator. What he did was unlawful. He’s gone over the head of the Prime Minister, Ismael Haniya, and he has ignored the fact that Hamas has the majority in the Legislative Council and has more power than he does.
We think that Mahmud Abbas has fallen into a trap laid by the gang of four, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Hassan Takhmad, Mohammed Dahlan and Saëb Erekat, who are mere puppets in the hands of Israel and the CIA. Everyone saw Dahlan and Erekat on television, sitting in the front row, applauding, jumping for joy, delighting in Mahmud Abbas’s announcement of new elections in three months. They could already see themselves in power.
We think that Mahmud Abbas is a weak man who has let himself be pushed into these elections by the gang of four who, for months now, have been doing everything possible to sabotage a government of national unity such as Hamas was proposing. Dahlan and Erekat know that the decision to call elections will provoke a split, a civil war, but they don’t give a damn because all they want is power.
Dahlan is presenting himself increasingly as Mahmud Abbas’s political heir. He is the most hated man in all Palestine, even amongst the Fatah supporters, but he has every chance of being their official candidate in the presidential election. He has bribed politicians, soldiers and men from the security service. He has always had as much money to give away as he wants as a means of consolidating his power – money paid into an account by the CIA. Dahlan has got what he wanted, and we are concerned at the idea of Dahlan coming to power. Dahlan is only working for his own interests. Israel lets him come and go as he pleases, and he would do anything the Israelis want. And we can expect the worst from him.
The situation is very serious. These elections are being seen as a coup d’état. And that has set the tinder-box alight. It’s a put-up affair to get Hamas out of the government and the Legislative Council. We expect Hamas to reject this coup d’état against its democratically elected government and to refuse to participate in the election. The situation can only get worse, because Hamas has the law on its side. Its dignity and the dignity of its people demands that it opposes the coup, it must reject it and prevent the elections from taking place.
Mahmud Abbas has led our people into a very dismal situation. We do not know what will happen tomorrow. The announcement of the new elections has filled us with sorrow, because it means that our people are going to fight among themselves, either to support Fatah’s decision or to ensure that the last election’s vote for Hamas is respected. We just pray that it won’t happen.
Israel and the United States support Mahmud Abbas, which is creating even more differences amongst us. It is not the struggle between the supporters of Fatah and the supporters of Hamas it is said to be. It is a struggle between those who collaborate with the occupying forces and those who fight for their freedom. There have been demonstrations in support of Hamas and demonstrations in support of Fatah’s decision. There are Fatah supporters who do not agree with Mahmud Abbas’s decision. And this is moving us away from what ought to unite us, the struggle to free ourselves from the occupying forces. Is that what the President and his gang of advisers want? To form an alliance with Israel, to be given weapons by Israel in order to get rid of Hamas?
We are concerned, because we believe that the aims of Mahmud Abbas and Fatah cannot be achieved without clashes. We know full well that in the new elections the people will vote with their stomachs. They are hungry, they are living in squalor, and hungry people can’t be expected to vote for an ideal. I have eight children to feed and I don’t have a job. I make do as best I can. In one week I have earned 14 shekels by selling this and that. Compared to my neighbours, whose destitution is even worse than mine, I consider myself to be privileged "
* We have only used Ali’s first name for safety reasons. In Gaza, everyone is terrified of the Preventive Security Service (which appears to be collaborating with the Shabak), which even under Arafat arrested, tortured and killed Palestinians opposed to the Oslo process or who were linked with Islamic resistance movements. These security forces – today under the command of Mahmud Abbas – have been armed and trained by the CIA.
**Elias Sanbar was a guest on France Culture radio on 19 December 2006. A Palestinian representative at UNESCO for 20 years, editor in chief of the Revue d’études palestiniennes, he has been a member of the Palestine National Council since 1988.