Jerusalem (AsiaNews) The coming Palestinian elections are a cause of indignation and weariness but also of realism and joy for Prof Ali Qleibo, who lectures in Classical Studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. It is an occasion of joy because for the first time Palestinians in East Jerusalem will be able to cast their ballot in a Palestinian election, which amounts to an Israeli recognition that Jerusalem is (also) an Arab city; weariness though because of the many years of ineffectual dialogue with the Israeli government.
According to Prof Qleibo, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has "not be able to gain anything in following this path, and won't gain anything." This has made Palestinians sceptical about dialogue and convinced them that the "resistance" by groups like Hamas is better. And for him, violence by Hamas is justified as the way of the desperate. As he says: "We cannot isolate the Hamas phenomenon from the whole situation"and then he lists all the violence Palestinians endure on a daily basis: "occupation, oppression, shootings, confiscated land, lack of rights."
He believes that these elections are a good opportunity to draw Hamas into the democratic process. He is critical of the corruption within the PNA (which Arafat allowed to develop for a long time, and which Mahmoud Abbas is trying to stop and clean up), but is also forgiving towards it given the difficult situation it faced.
In the interview he gave AsiaNews, Ali Qleibo calls on the international community and Israel to make a real commitment to the peace process. Here is what he said:
Prof Ali Qleibo, how important are these elections?
The most important aspect of these elections is the fact that residents of East Jerusalem will be allowed to cast their ballot. It is recognition that they are part of the Palestinian people. After the 1967 war, the Israeli government had annexed East Jerusalem, but by allowing us to vote it is admitting that we are under occupation, that we belong to another people, nation and government. Jerusalem is one of the problems at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just think! We can vote in Palestinian elections but cannot hold Palestinian passports. The land was annexed, not the people.
What hopes and worries are there about the vote?
Our problem is that there is always the risk that we might be considered terrorist by association. We live in though times in which Palestinian nationalism is associated with terrorism. Hamas is part of the Palestinian world; it is a nationalist movement fighting for independence. But in Jerusalem we cannot vote for Hamas because the Israeli government considers it a terrorist movement. In reality, Hamas works for the Palestinian nation and we cannot afford to leave it outside of government.
The question is how to bring Hamas into it. Everybody from the outside is telling what Hamas ought to do, whether to join the government or not, who is good or bad amongst Palestinians. Foreign powers are doing just that, but this is not right.
As for Fatah, it has been negotiating with Israel since Oslo (1993) and Israel continues to violate the agreement (through its settlement activities) and Fatah has not been able to get anything or gain anything.
Still it is a good thing that we are able to elect our representatives and choose our new government. It is the first step towards independence: there is a country and these are its representatives. Democracy is a journey.
Will the new government work to solve the problems people face such as health care, education . . . ?
Given the current situation, Fatah has had to focus on international politics and has paid little attention to domestic affairs. By the same token, the road has been blocked by the Israelis so many times. There is a vicious cycle. In many towns like Nablus a curfew is in place; in other towns like Ramallah and Bethlehem there are roadblocks around them and residents feel locked up. It has been difficult if not impossible for the PNA to exercise power at the local level.
What do you about the charges of graft and corruption levelled at Fatah and the PNA?
Some people are corrupt but it would be wrong to say that Fatah is corrupt. Arafat allowed corruption to develop for a long time. Mahmoud Abbas is trying to stop and clean it up. But it is a hard task. This is a traditional society with pre-modern characteristics; it is tribal and it is easy to fall into nepotism, clientelism, and abuses of power. Mahmoud Abbas should call on anthropologists and psychologists, etc. to help him better understand the situation and act accordingly.
Do Palestinians fear Hamas violence?
We live in a violent society where violence is just around the corner. We cannot isolate the Hamas phenomenon from the whole situation. Israel is violent too: occupation, oppression, land confiscation, lack of rights . . . . What Hamas does can be seen as resistance to oppression. In the last ten years land values have dropped 30 per cent in the West Bank. This means that we must be sure to vote for a party that can help our survival.
Will Fatah and Hams be able work together?
It's democracy. They must work together. But Israel must also co-operateit cannot continue confiscating land and expect Palestinians to remain quite.
Will Christians and Muslims vote differently?
I think voting differences depend on education and cultural level. Whether they are Muslim or Christian, scholars, businessmen, and the middle class will vote according to their self-interest. The middle class tends to be post-modern and won't accept a society that is strongly Islamic. For this reason, I think middle class voters will opt for Fatah. On the other hand, many farmers and the poor will vote for Hamas.