From 2006-2021, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) has clung to power while the lives of the Palestinian people have gone from bad to worse. The Arab world has now started moving on without Palestine. As time passes this becomes a problem of the Palestinians and the Israelis.
The Mahmoud Abbas faction is now on the back foot, inventing excuses to potentially delay or cancel the first elections of the Palestinian authority in 15 years. Fatah suffered severe blows recently, with its attempts to disqualify candidates on the electoral lists of rivals Hamas, Marwan Barghouti and Nasser Kidwa as well as Mohamed Dahlan. Now the Palestinian Authority, knowing fairly well that Israel will object to their activity in East Jerusalem, has started the slogan of no elections unless East Jerusalem is allowed to vote. Palestinian civil society, alarmed at this new development, has warned of the importance of finally holding the elections as scheduled.
What has Abu Mazen and his loyalists concerned is the prospect of having their first real electoral challenge since the passing of Yasser Arafat. Apart from Abu Mazen, Hamas is also very uncomfortable with this new development which forces them to answer to the electorate, having dashed their hopes with their shameful governance of Gaza. Whether Hamas or Fatah, both have run out of credible leaders who can assure Palestinians of a clean, non-corrupt government which can work towards a realistic peace deal with Israel and garner support of the Arab world. With the Abraham Accords having all but destroyed the Arab embargo of Israel, the final isolation of Palestinians is palpable on the street.
The only realistic candidate who will ensure that the Palestinian authority remains credible, Marwan Barghouti, is incarcerated in an Israeli jail. Barghouti is not a horse anyone would like to back. For Israel, Barghouti’s winning puts it in an embarrassing position as it would find itself in the unique position of having its eventual partner in peace, the incumbent President, in its own jail. The UAE would rather back Mohamed Dahlan, whom they have sheltered and supported since his falling out with Abbas and Fatah in 2011. Barghouti is an inconvenience they would prefer not to deal with. Dahlan, who would likely steal support from both Fatah and Hamas, does not have the backing from the masses.
Prime Minister Netanyahu now has the chance to get on the right side of history and resolve the Palestinian conflict riding on the enthusiasm of the Abraham Accords. The focus should be to get a legitimate government at the helm of the Palestinian Authority which represents all the political factions and which can actually negotiate a sustainable peace. Also, a government is needed that believes in the Palestinian youth, invests constructively in the development of their own society and territory rather than blaming Israel for all their problems. The only way to bring Hamas to heel is by the electoral vote and to get there, the candidate needs to be someone who is a legend of the Palestinian cause, who has not compromised his integrity in the eyes of the Palestinian people, especially the youth and that candidate is Barghouti.
Releasing Barghouti on parole, before the elections, allowing him to contest with his list, will put a spoke in every wheel in Ramallah and Gaza and bring Bibi goodwill in surprising corners. Marwan is a young leader with broad grassroot support and is a brilliant political strategist. He understands the Palestinian youth, their hopes and dreams. He accepts the changed political scenario today and will appreciate a second chance after 18 years of incarceration.
With a new US President in a hurry to set right the errors made by his predecessors in the holy land and the honeymoon between Israel and its new Arab allies, this is the time to present new visions for both Israelis and Palestinians. Releasing Barghouti and getting a partner who actually understands the price of freedom and is hungry to establish his legacy will help solve a deadlock which otherwise risks escalating with another Hamas win. No one expects Netanyahu to take bold steps to peace, his new coalition will rely on right wingers who do not see peace as a necessity. But it is time that Bibi used the enthusiasm, and the support peace has in the middle east to take the first step and resolve the most complicated issue that plagues Israel and weighs socially, morally, economically on its existence and its security.
The effort should be made to force Abbas to hold elections and make sure there is a new generation of leaders that has the mandate from the Palestinian people to negotiate sustainably on their behalf and conclude a realistic peace deal.
Israel is the legendary land of miracles and one can hope for a miracle for the sake of the Palestinians, the middle east and the rest of the world.