bitterlemons: President Mahmoud Abbas has called for early elections. Do you support the idea of early elections?
Ashrawi: I support the idea of elections. I think elections are an absolutely necessary instrument of democracy and therefore the only way to settle disputes and allow the public to elect representatives and hold their representatives accountable. Elections are an essential tool for the creation of a responsible system of good governance.
On the issue of early elections, clearly the situation in Palestine is one of tremendous crisis in which we have reached an impasse. Elections are a positive way out rather than resorting to violence. Going back to the public is much more constructive than attempting to resolve things by a show of force and confrontation.
The timing is essential of course, because if you do have elections at a time in which the conditions are extremely volatile or in which you have a lack of consensus, or you have one party, regardless of how big or small, refusing to participate, then that can easily destroy the process itself and its credibility.
So we need a new national consensus or agreement and we need to recognize the necessity to hold elections, but at the same time we must understand that tempers are running high. The atmosphere, not just the objective conditions but the prevailing atmosphere, will also impact the outcome.
bitterlemons: You mention the atmosphere. Is it at all possible to hold early elections with Hamas adamantly opposed?
Ashrawi: It seems to me sooner or later Hamas has to understand that this is one way out. There is no win-win solution here, there is a lose-lose situation. Hamas has to understand that one way to resolve the impasse is by resorting to elections and if it is confident of its public support then it has nothing to fear. But this is one way of resolving the situation.
Of course you cannot have elections with part of the people or on part of the land and you cannot have elections in installments.
bitterlemons: So elections would have to include Gaza and Hamas would have to be on board for that?
Ashrawi: I think you need to have comprehensive elections both in terms of geography and in terms of demography and all the different political components of the Palestinian political reality. The Palestinian political system is pluralistic and we must respect pluralism and allow for genuine engagement.
bitterlemons: But Hamas might argue that elections were recently held, it was legitimately elected and there should be no need for new elections at the moment?
Ashrawi: You cannot have elections once and for all and say, "that's it". Elections do not give you a permanent mandate or an absolute mandate. It is common practice in all democracies that when you reach a situation of deadlock or breakdown then you go back to the electorate and say "I've tried and failed, either give me a new mandate or elect somebody else." This is common sense.
bitterlemons: Do you worry that if Hamas again wins elections we will be returned to square one, or would this resolve issues?
Ashrawi: If Hamas does win elections, both parliamentary and presidential, then that would be a very decisive victory. It would clinch the matter once and for all. Fateh and everybody else would have to recognize that this is the will of the overwhelming majority of Palestinians without any of the previous excuses that Fateh shot itself in the foot, that the numerical vote is in favor of Fateh or they cancelled each other out. All these issues will be resolved and we need clarity.
bitterlemons: There is also a suggestion that there may be early elections in Israel. Could early elections there bring about a positive dynamic in terms of peace efforts, or is there already a positive dynamic and Israeli elections would disrupt this?
Ashrawi: It depends on who gets elected. If you have the more extreme components, if you jump from the Kadima frying pan into the Likud fire, then that would certainly not be conducive to any kind of confidence in a peace initiative or a commitment to a viable negotiations process.
Now there are moves--whether the Arab initiative, American, however flawed, or international--to create a momentum for negotiations. There is a call for an "international meeting". Let's see what can be done to expand this to make it into a conference and get the international community to adopt the Arab initiative, to hold Israel to the requirements of peace in terms of having viable, substantive negotiations that would include permanent status issues. This is what we need to do now. The issue of elections in Israel is domestic, granted, but at the same time it will have an impact on the peace agenda. Not that we think Kadima has a peace agenda, but there is in the international community right now some attempt to create a momentum or a drive for peace.
bitterlemons: So Israeli elections could disrupt this momentum?
Ashrawi: They would have a delaying impact. Whenever you have elections, whether in Israel or in the US, the Palestinians end up paying the price by being put on hold waiting for the result.- Published 6/8/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Hanan Ashrawi is a Palestinian legislator and a member of the Third Way party.