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The West Bank election results have weakened the position of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party. The long-delayed elections for control of 94 towns and villages took place on Saturday for the first time in six years and were largely seen as a vote of confidence in Mahmoud Abbas. His party had expected to make a strong showing because its rival Hamas had boycotted the election, but the results released yesterday showed that several rebels took seats in main cities. Also, reports said barely half of eligible voters turned out, which is a powerful statement of the disenchantment of a large number of people with the leadership.
Palestinians are going through harrowing times in every respect. The peace process is in stalemate, and what is more depressing is the fact that there is no sincere and credible effort, either by their leaders or the international community, to restart it. The economy too is in a shambles, affecting the daily lives of people. The technocrat Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was the butt of violent anti-austerity protests last month throughout West Bank after the heavily indebted government withheld salaries when it ran out of money and increased fuel prices to meet commitments with Israel. In such troubling times, it’s not surprising that people will lose faith in their leadership, making them either not to turn up to vote, or to vote for rebels as a mark of protest.
Abbas is a Western-backed leader and he is due to make a case for statehood recognition at the United Nations next month. The election results will not impact the statehood plan but can dent his reputation abroad as a powerful leader who has the support of his people. The poll outcome also speaks of a disconnect between Fatah and the people which can lead to other consequences. Like any political party, Fatah needs to learn its lessons and take corrective measures to address the concerns of Palestinians. A victory for rebels, even if they are small in number, can mean a huge headache for the Fatah leadership. The internal dissension is something the party will find it difficult to tackle at this stage as its energies are focused on defeating its main rival Hamas. What Palestinians need today is unity between Hamas and Fatah. That is just a dream in the current political scenario. As the prospects for peace recede, with Israel making huge strides in its policy of dividing Palestinians and ratcheting up the Iranian nuclear issue to divert attention from the need to make peace with Palestinians, ordinary Palestinians are stuck in a rut. That explains why an election which was held after six years didn’t elicit the kind of response and enthusiasm it otherwise should.