Five left-wing Palestinian parties in the occupied territories announced they will run on a joint list in the upcoming municipal elections. Elections are expected to take place on October 8th in over 300 municipalities, village councils, and regional councils in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The parties, which will run together under the name the “Democratic Alliance,” have not ruled out the possibility that this will be the first step in forming a similar alliance on a national level.
Senior officials of the five parties are trying to position the leftist bloc as an alternative to Fatah and Hamas, which will focus on both the unity of the Palestinian struggle against the occupation and, yes, on social justice. Namely, equality between men and women (the alliance is committed to ensuring that at least 30 percent of its representatives are women) and resistance to corruption.
The platform also includes support for full access to electricity, water, social services, infrastructure, lighting, and free public parks. According to some members of the party, the alliance drew inspiration from the establishment of the Joint List during the last elections to the Knesset.
Counting on undecided voters
Should they take place, these will be the first municipal elections in the occupied territories to succeed. The 2005 elections were not completed in full and elections in 2012 only took place in the West Bank, as they were boycotted by Hamas in Gaza. It will also be the first electoral event shared by the West Bank and Gaza in a decade, since Hamas’ victory in the general elections of 2006, its rise to power in Gaza, and the ensuing rift between both parties. Hamas’ participation in the upcoming elections, and its concurrent presence in both Gaza and the West Bank, is seen as a positive signtoward mending the rift.
Although they ran independently, each of the left-wing parties partook in those same elections, reaching a little less than ten percent of electoral support. The latest poll conducted by Khalil Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that were general elections to be held today, Fatah would win by 34 percent, Hamas by 31 percent, and left-wing parties (independently) by 9 percent, while around 26 percent of voters remain undecided. In an interview with +972’s Hebrew sister-site, Local Call, members of the left-wing alliance say they anticipate significant support from undecided voters, who wish to relay a message against division and in favor of a third way.
The new Democratic Alliance is comprised of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (the largest of the five parties), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian National Initiative (recently established with a focus on resistance to corruption and support for national struggles against the wall), the Palestinian People’s Party (a tiny communist party allied with Israel’s Communist Party), and the Democratic Union (FIDA, which split from the Democratic Front in the early 90s). These parties will be joined by independent political activists who identify with the alliance’s platform.
“There is a great need in our society for a democratic left-wing alliance that will provide an alternative to other political forces, promoting a program of equality between women and men,” says Khalida Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Jarrar was recently released from an Israeli prison after a little over14 months for political activities such as participating in demonstrations, giving speeches at conferences, meetings with prisoners’ families, and more. Prior to her imprisonment she was well known as a prominent activist for women’s rights and Palestinian prisoners, as well as a critic of the security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “The attempt began in university for some of us, whereupon we were able to establish such an alliance,” says Jarrar. “This is another clear step in that direction — perhaps the beginning of something even bigger that will reach the national level. In the meantime we are focusing on the local level, on which we also need to provide our citizens with services free of corruption, making the government more accessible and providing services primarily for the poor, while protecting land from confiscation and residents of Area C from the occupation. This coalition is an important step for a healthy political balance within our society, and I am very optimistic about it.”
“We believe that a large majority seeks a third way in the division between Fatah and Hamas,” adds legislative council member Mustafa Barghouti, founder and head of the Palestinian National Initiative. “We are walking along the path of the Joint List of Palestinians from ’48, we wish to follow their successful model to provide Fatah and Hamas with an example of how unity can be achieved.”
“These elections are very important in general, and their very existence lays foundations to mend the rift between the West Bank and Gaza, which will hopefully lead to national and presidential elections,” Barghouti adds. “Most important, they return people’s long lost right to vote and to influence those who lead them. It is refreshing and infuses political parties with energy, which is a worthy goal in and of itself.”
Elected officials detained
Alongside the optimism, candidates emphasize Israel’s deeply felt influence leading up to the elections. Recent news items have covered the Civil Administration’s efforts to encourage traders and others in good relations with Israel to run in the elections, conversations coordinating between Israel and the PA security services, and the recent arrests of political activists and candidates from Hamas and other factions.
“One of the main questions that this election will raise is with whom does Israel work, and how to vote against them,” Arif Jafal, a political analyst and CEO of Al Marsad, an independent Palestinian NGO in Ramallah that oversees the elections and promotes democracy, tells Local Call. “All such cooperation weakens Fatah, and strengthens those running against them. In the previous national elections Israel served Hamas more than its own election campaign.”
Jafal indicated that the elections could shift power relations among local authorities. Aside from areas clearly identified with one of the parties, there are cities where the Democratic Alliance could become a major power (particularly in Bethlehem, Ramallah and Tulkarem), as well as places where Fatah or Hamas will be compelled to build coalitions with others to manage the local government. “In local elections, alongside Fatah, Hamas, and now the Democratic Alliance, family lists are also running independently. Fatah or Hamas will need to cooperate with the left-wing alliance or with families to control the councils.”
Amidst the elections in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian public debate has recently revolved around the lack of elections in East Jerusalem, the intended future capital of the Palestinian state. In an article published in the Al-Quds daily, Mustafa Barghouti called for all the lists — the Alliance, Fatah and Hamas — to try to hold the elections in East Jerusalem through a consensus list, which will held exclusively in the city. “This is a message to create facts on the ground in the face of strong Israeli pressure through use of nonviolent tools,” said Barghouti in an interview.
The Democratic Alliance isn’t likely to become a major force in the coming elections. Though if the elections take place successfully and the alliance is able to sustain itself (establishing itself as a third party that can serve to check and balance Fatah and Hamas on local and national levels) — and if Israel doesn’t suppress the list (as it has done to political activists and members of the legislative council for years) — it will be wonderful news. If all this happens, and the Joint List is indeed a source of inspiration for left-wing parties as some activists say, then it seems the Palestinian Left may also have Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to thank for raising the election threshold in the Knesset, forcing Israel’s Arab parties to unite.