The following article on the upcoming Palestinian elections appeared in the December 1 issue of the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz":
A Single party - the Fatah Movement - will stand at the center of the Palestine elections campaign, which will we held in another seven weeks, and will run against the mostly conservative clan representatives and the representatives of small parties which slim changes. Fatah's victory is assured. Seven weeks remain to election day for the Palestinian Council and Presidency, and the final version of the elections law is only supposed to be published this weekend. All of the preparations for the elections in the West Bank and Gaza were being done hastily, and there are those who claim that it will be impossible to hold orderly elections on the date set.
At present, it is possible that there will be one party elections in the territories; that is, only one serious political party -- the Fatah movement -- will participate in them. The Palestinian newspapers are full of reports about meetings of the movement's council, district and municipal elections committees, and Fatah movement coordination committees. In contrast, one scarcely hears anything about the activities of the other Palestinian parties, which are preparing for the elections. It is clear that the People's Party (the former Communists) will officially run in the elections, as will those who broke away from the Democratic Front under the leadership of Yasser Abd Rabbo ("FADA"). However, these two parties have little public support. They usually receive about 1-2% in public opinion polls in the territories
There is a chance that the HAMAS-sponsored "National Salvation Party" will participate in the elections, although this also lacks final confirmation. Similarly, several unrecognized groups have announced that they intend to compete as parties. Their role is similar to the strange candidates who also pop up here in Israel during elections campaigns. What form, therefore, will these elections take, where only one real party is participating, and in which there will be only one candidate for the Presidency? Who will they compete against?
The Palestinian voters entering the voting booth will find a list of the names of several dozen candidates who have submitted their candidacies in each election district. If, say, a quota of seven council representatives has been set for the Jerusalem district, the voter will be able to choose up to seven names. He will be able, of course, to choose to vote for fewer candidate, but if he chooses eight names, his ballot will be disqualified. A symbol will appear next to the names of a given party's candidates. Therefore, the Fatah movement will -- in Jerusalem -- put its recognized symbol next to seven names. The other organized parties that are competing will do likewise. However, the party lists do not obligate the voter. That is, he can vote for two candidates from the Fatah list, one from the Communists, one from HAMAS, and afterwards, two of his friends who are independent candidates, and have no link to any party whatsoever.
Anyone not appealing to the voters on behalf of a political body, but is requesting that they vote for him on a personal basis is an independent candidate. In short, these are the candidates of the traditional clans. Naim El-Ashav, a known left-wing activist in the West Bank, wrote an article last week, claiming that the danger of these elections is that the clans will gain in strength at the expense of political bodies. That is, instead of voting for a party, the public at large in the West Bank and Gaza will vote for family members, the clan, the tribe, and the village. This is the situation, more or less, in the Kingdom of Jordan, from which the general outlines of the Palestinian electorial system has been copied. Many fear this, and El-Ashav recounts the dangers involved in electing clan-based candidates. "These are people whose attention is mainly drawn to local, personal, and family matters, and they will shift the debate away from central, national matters," he writes, and argues that the election of clan candidates -- who do not operate in the national sphere -- will serve Israel's interests. At a meeting of the Fatah movement's Supreme Secretariat for the West Bank -- in which Faisal Husseini and Abu Ala participated -- held this week in Ramallah, several of the speakers stated that Fatah's struggle in the elections will not be against the opposition organizations, but against the clans.
There are many signs on the ground that illustrate the determined activity of the traditional clans. The large clans in the territories have a kind of unofficial council which administers them. They deal with issues of common property, marriage, receiving or paying compensation, and other obligations of the traditional family structure. In recent weeks, there have been frequent gatherings of these councils, and they are clearly discussing the issue of who the clans will support. Recently, previously unknown groups have been taking out advertisements in the Palestinian newspapers: Masmiyeh town residents from all over the Gaza Strip are assembling for a special meeting. The residents of the neighborhood of Majdal (Ashkelon) living in Gaza have done likewise, as have the residents of Jaffa's Basa neighborhood, those from the Bedouin tribes in the Be'er Sheva district who are concentrated in Rafiah, those from the Turkmen tribes from the Carmel who are in Jenin and Tulkarem. The leaders of large clans from Hebron are very active in Jerusalem; in Nablus, it is being said that the members of the El-Masi family -- which is, apparently, the wealthiest Palestinian clan -- are preparing to finance an election campaign for their own representatives.
In contrast to the reports of the preparations that Fatah activists and the clans are making before the elections, the embarrassment and helplessness of the veteran political groups -- the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), led by George Habash; the Democratic Front, led by Nayef Hawatmeh; and, of course, the rest of the smaller opposition organizations -- are conspicuous. In recent days, the spokesmen of these organizations have issued a statement that they are boycotting the elections. Last week, a joint leaflet was in fact issued in Gaza by the Popular and Democratic Front leaderships, calling for a boycott of the elections, but most announcements of this type are issued by the opposition organizations' headquarters in Damascus.
By contrast, the local leaderships of the groups which reside in the West Bank and Gaza are issuing statements of a different sort -- more moderate; it's possible to understand from them that while these organizations will perhaps not set up parties, it is definitely possible that their candidates will compete as independents. Dr. Riad El-Maliki, an important Popular Front activist in the West Bank, denied this week that the organization has officially and finally decided to boycott the elections. And Razi Abu- Jiab, a Popular Front activist in Gaza, said a week ago at at a gathering in Ramallah, that the opposition organizations must not repeat the mistakes of the past and wave unrealistic slogans.
It is clear enough today, in the West Bank and Gaza, that the general public is yearning to participate in the elections, and that the calls to ban them is unrealistic. The people in the territories will not listen to them. It was expected that opposition leaders abroad would call for them to boycott from elections. But, they live far from here, in Palestinian exile communities that do not have the right to participate in the elections. But the local leadership of these organizations have much to lose from a ban on the elections, because if they do not have representatives in the elected body of territory residents, they may disappear from the body politic of the forthcoming Palestinian State.
"You are simply afraid of the results of the elections, which will show everyone what you really are," a FADA man and Jordanian journalist, Mamduh Nuf'al, said mockingly two days ago, to the head of the fronts in Damascus (in an article published in Al Kuds). But, it has become clear that the problem of the opposition organizations in Damascus is more complicated. The general public sees them as militant organizations built to military model of the past, with leaders who have reached their senior positions through the armed struggle. They are no longer needed, and everyone expected that these fronts would become political parties. They are split by disputes and internal conflicts, and the number of their supporters has greatly declined. Even if independent candidates decide to participate in the elections, it is doubtful that they will succeed.
Somewhere in the center of the arena of struggle in the Palestinian elections will stand one party, the Fatah movement, whose members will contend with the independent clan representatives, who will be mainly conservative, and against some small parties whose chances are slim. Fatah's victory is almost as certain as that of Yasser Arafat, the only serious candidate for presidency at present, following Dr. Haider Abd E-Shafi's refusal to respond to the many requests he received this week, and his announcement that he will not be a candidate.