Palestinian Democracy in Seven ‘Easy’ Steps: A Proposal
With a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as unlikely as it has ever been, it is time for world leaders forego the periodic, ritual game of throwing darts — blindfolded — at the dartboard of peace. Instead of feeding the endless cycle of posturing and self-righteousness among leaders participating in the conflict, as well as those observing it, let us turn the attention of the international community to assuring that civilians on both sides are able to live free and fulfilling lives, even under present conditions. To this end, the achievement of a unified and democratic Palestinian government would go a long way towards improving economic conditions for Palestinians on the ground, as well as enhancing their access to the global marketplace.
It has been ten years since the last Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. The fear, of course, in holding new elections, is that they will once again deteriorate, in the aftermath, into civil war and/or war with the Israelis. The possibility of these outcomes can be greatly diminished by developing institutions which satisfy both of the two competing and coexisting Palestinian identities: a comparatively more liberal and secular one, centered in the West Bank, and a comparatively more conservative and religious one, centered in Gaza. In Bosnia — where identity is based on ethnicity — and Lebanon — where it is based in religion — consociational, or power-sharing, principles are used to unite competing identities under a functioning government. Since Palestinians are a largely homogeneous people — the vast majority identifying as both religiously Sunni Muslim, and ethnically Palestinian Arab — the two groups that need to be unified differ ideologically and geographically. In this case, a more centralized federation can be created, without the downside of reinforcing ‘tribal’ mentalities. Rather than building a legislature around ethnic ‘communities’, as in Bosnia, or religious groupings, as in Lebanon, this federation of the two significant Palestinian landmasses would be inspired by the Palestinian identities they respectively represent. In this way, both identities would feel that they have sufficient influence regardless of the results of the next election.
Here is how I envision this in practice:
1. A 49-member Gazan Assembly, and an 83-member West Bank Assembly, representing roughly the proportions of Palestinians in each region.
2. Legislators in both assemblies would be directly elected.
3. The two Assemblies, sitting together, would become the 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council. Therefore, all legislators would be representing their districts at both the regional and national level.
4. While each Assembly would be given a degree of autonomy over internal domestic policy, especially concerning day-to-day governance, all international considerations, including peace negotiations, would occur only at sittings of the Legislative Council. Laws passed by the full legislature would supersede those passed by the Assemblies. Again, the idea here is to encourage unity, despite regional differences.
5. The West Bank Assembly would reserve the right to nominate the President, while the Gaza Assembly would nominate the Prime Minister. To be elected, both the President and Prime Minister would have to be supported by at least 50% of Gazan legislators, and 50% of West Bank legislators.
6. The Prime Minister would be tasked with ensuring intra-Palestinian unity, and the President would be tasked with peace negotiations and foreign relations.
7. With a view to preventing post-election violence, any political party with an associated paramilitary wing will be barred from participating. This will exclude both Hamas and Fatah, along with Fatah’s PLO allies, from fielding candidates. Should Hamas or Fatah members wish to run for office, they will be forced to either formally leave those organizations, and run under a new, non-violent, politically-focused banner, or join another political party. A political leadership that is fully distinct from a paramilitary one will heighten its party’s profile on the global stage, and increase its political capital, in much the way Sinn Féin became a political player in Ireland. I believe that everyone, including much of the Palestinian leadership, is ready for such a fresh start.