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Can This Palestinian Election Succeed?

A win for Hamas could be the best hope for peace.

| Wed Jan. 25, 2006 3:00 AM EST

Almost ten years ago to the day, I stood in a polling station in the Palestinian village of Abu Dis, the soon to be capital, everyone assumed, of a newly independent Palestine. A tear clouded my eye as I watched two young Palestinian policemen carry a frail old man to a voting booth for what was (and perhaps remains) the freest elections in the history of the Middle East. It seemed a fitting symbol of the new Palestine.

Yet to anyone unafraid to see the bigger picture, the optimistic scene before me did not fit the reality unfolding on the ground. The signs of trouble were everywhere: the constantly expanding ring of Jewish settlements and checkpoints around Abu Dis (and all of Jerusalem), continued Palestinian terrorism, Israeli land expropriations and economic closures of the Territories, the widespread corruption of the Palestinian Authority, and the still-stained pavement under the Tel Aviv Municipality where Rabin had been gunned down only two months before--all these pointed to a situation that would deteriorate, not improve, after the elections.

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And deteriorate it did, despite the best efforts of Oslo's Israeli and Palestinian architects. The reality was that Oslo was doomed from the start. The divergence of interests between even the most liberal Israelis and the majority of Palestinians was just too great. The formers' interests lay in what former Prime Minister Ehud Barak described as a a "divorce," a separation that cemented Israel's transition to a globalized economy by preserving its dominance in the territories while expanding its economic and cultural presence across the Middle East.

That meant no large scale withdrawal from major settlement blocs or, as important, from the aquifers on top of which many were purposely built. It also necessitated the replacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers with more docile "foreign" workers, establishing Maquiladora-type "industrial estates" in the border regions between the two communities, and prohibiting, by treaty, the development of any sector of the Palestinian economy that could challenge existing Israeli industries.

To sustain such an untenable negotiating paradigm, the Palestinian Authority had to be converted from a transitional government working towards a quick assumption of sovereignty into Israel's political and economic enforcer in the territories. This necessitated a level of corruption, repression, and brutality that would approach what Palestinians suffered under direct Israeli rule.

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