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Democracy is impossible with occupation and rebellion rule

In most Arab countries the problem with electoral democracy is that it is often the only portion of democracy that is implemented

Daoud Kuttab

Published: Updated:

The overtly exaggerated power of electoral democracy has once again been put into question in the Middle East. Municipal elections slated for the West Bank and Gaza on October 8th will not take place due officially to a decision of the Palestinian High Court.

But the high court decision -whether you believe it was taken independently or not- reflects a clear problem in the situation that Palestinians were facing in the fall of 2016.

In most Arab countries the problem with electoral democracy is that it is often the only portion of democracy that is implemented and usually for a short period. The separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary and a robust free media are often missing in most cases where elections are taking place which are usually not even free or fair.

In the Palestinian example the last time municipal elections took place was in 2012 and was limited to the West Bank. The Islamic movement didn’t allow elections to take place in the Gaza strip which has been under their control since 2007 and at the same time they instructed their supporters in the West Bank to boycott the elections.

The continuation of the Israeli military control over Palestinian areas occupied in 1967 and the near daily Israeli army intervention make any democratic process a joke

Daoud Kuttab

This round, however, Hamas agreed to allow Ramallah-based election officials to organize in Gaza and were set to participate also in the West Bank when the Palestinian High court put a stop to the voting. The court responding to seven different appeals ruled that the elections should not take place with East Jerusalemites being barred (by Israel) and because courts in Gaza (mostly appointed by Hamas) had disqualified five pro Fatah municipal lists.

While municipal elections don’t generally reflect large political trends nor do they give a national mandate to those who win, a number of pundits were looking forward to the first ever elections in which the opposing leading Palestinian political factions were set to participate.

The current legal security and administrative scene in Palestinian is totally incompatible with the possibility for proper democratic processes to occur and be respected by the population. The continuation of the Israeli military control over Palestinian areas occupied in 1967 and the near daily Israeli army intervention make any democratic process a joke. The situation in East Jerusalem where 350,000 Palestinian live is of special concern. The fact of the unilaterally annexation of east Jerusalem to Israel (which no country in the world has recognized) has in fact meant that Palestinians in the holy city are totally disenfranchised. Palestinian Jerusalemites have in the past twice voted in national elections for the Ramallah-based presidency and parliament but in those cases they were only allowed to vote absentee or travel outside the city to vote.

Political orphans

Candidates from Jerusalem who had won as legislatures have been regularly harassed and arrested without any Israeli attention to the immunity that parliamentarians are usually guaranteed.

Since the unrecognized Israeli annexation of east Jerusalem the city has held regular Israeli municipal elections but the vast majority of East Jerusalemites have boycotted these elections in protest. No effort has taken placed since 1967 to try and involve Palestinians from Jerusalem in the decision making process of their lives and futures. Efforts to organize Palestinians or to involve the Palestinian government in the lives of Jerusalemites has been forcefully rebuffed by Israel. Cultural activities supported by the Ramallah government are banned by Israel enforced by the Israeli police. The absence of any Palestinian representation or even a ‘shadow local government’ has not occurred leaving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians as political orphans since they are residents and not citizens of Israel yet not allowed to participate in the Palestinian political life.

The situation in Gaza also runs against any realistic democratic culture. Armed personnel have seized power in Gaza since June 2007 and have allowed a renegade power to control the strip and to dictated policies, create laws, and make judicial appointments. The fact that the internationally recognized Palestinian government was able to make preparations for elections in Gaza was seen as a move towards the eventual end of this illegal rebellion and a return to legitimate rule. But the unexpected decision by the Hamas appointed courts in Gaza, evaporated any hope of the beginnings of a reconciliation process. The position of the Hamas leadership in Gaza appears to have given priority to partisanship over all other considerations including the will of the electorate.

Elections under occupation and renegade rule don’t pass the minimum standards for free and fair elections. The decision of the Palestinian high court appears to have based their judgment on this impossibility. Holding general political elections will require the ability to control all Palestinian territories by a single legitimate power not competing powers between Ramallah-Tel Aviv and Gaza which brings us back to square one. The end of the occupation and the establishment of an independent state that has power and control over all Palestinian territory is an essential component for any progress towards genuine democracy and the rule of law.

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Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on twitter.com/daoudkuttab

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.