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Last updated: May 6, 2013
Tamara Smillie: Why no one in Washington cares about Palestinian elections

"Local events in Palestine go wholly unnoticed here in D.C."

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For years, Palestinian concerns have been a low priority for the American political elite. It is not going to change any time soon. The Palestinian voice will remain a very quiet one in Washington politics, despite the unending references to a ‘peaceful solution to the conflict’ among U.S. presidential candidates, campaigners and in foreign policy debate and discussions. If Palestine is ever to be heard, the need for a unified Palestinian political voice is now more important than ever. However, with Hamas’ recent boycott of municipal elections, this prospect seems even more unattainable.

Local events in Palestine go wholly unnoticed here in D.C. In search of insight into the Palestinian Local Elections happening this weekend I spoke to several Palestine experts, but the unanimous response was that they had really not been following these elections at all, so were unable to answer my questions. While the American media and policy think tanks are predictably focusing on the upcoming U.S. elections, any Palestinian viewpoint remains outside the consciousness of Washington’s political elite, as well as much of the U.S. public.

In a conversation with Walid Khalidi, renowned and respected expert on Palestinian issues and co-founder of the Institute of Palestine Studies, on the current situation in the Middle East, several points were raised as to why this may be.

The first concerns the Arab world. Since the death of Nasser, there has been no epicenter of the Arab world. With such “inherently spiritual potential and affluence” the Arab world is hardly “rising to the occasion”, Khalidi reflects. However, in its midst Israel most certainly is. Historically the Arab State’s focus has been on the final objective of state consolidation with very little attention on the means by which to attain this. In comparison, Israeli Zionism’s resolutions and manifestos are full of detail on the mechanics of how to achieve their ultimate aims. What results from this inattention is an Arab World rife with discord, Sunni-Shiite friction, continuing Syrian atrocities, raising Islamism. Israel on the other hand, has emerged as the international power broker for the region, and the main actor through which the U.S. deals with Middle East developments.

The second concerns the Palestinians. The strategic thinking of Abbas is unlike that of his predecessors; “he is not a pacifist, he is not a gambler,” Khalidi tells us.  It has been a matter of “deep conviction” that diplomacy for Abbas is the one and only path to a peace agreement. He genuinely believes, despite criticism from his people that if he could prove his commitment to diplomacy then the U.S. and Israel would follow suite. But his patience is waning. He is only able to conduct his politics if Netanyahu allows it – he is only allowed to leave the country to speak at the UN if Netanyahu allows it, he can only return if Netanyahu allows it. As Khalidi so pertinently asks; “How can there be direct negotiations between the jailor and the jailed?”

The last of the founding fathers of Fatah, Abbas is facing increasing criticism, and feelings of disillusionment and hopelessness among Palestinians. “He is no traitor,” Khalidi explains, “but a trifle naïve”. As more groups splinter off, their voices become ever weaker. Whatever the turnout of these elections, with Hamas boycotting them, the impact on unifying Palestine will be minimal.

Benjamin Netanyahu conducts affairs almost as a self-styled “American political maestro” presiding over “one constituency with two halves…” So often he is seen outmaneuvering Washington; he sees no limits to his “bipartisan plausibility”, Khalidi wonders. Take the case of Iran’s nuclear program. While Iran’s nuclear program does pose a threat to Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the region, and it does pose a threat to its superpower status; it absolutely does not represent a threat to its existence. Yet, by pushing the security issues at stake with a nuclear Iran, Bibi successfully diverts all attention away from his real aim; with Washington fretting over Iran, the path is paved to undertake, in the words of Khalidi, “unfinished Zionist business in Palestine.”

What about help from the international community? And what about the role of the U.S? “If Bibi doesn’t want it, so neither does Washington.” The concept that there exists “no daylight” between the Israelis and the Americans on Iran further removes the possibility of the U.S. as mediator, observer, helper. It is impossible to criticize, question and pressure Israel. Additionally, the concept of “no daylight” also becomes a question of morality. “It requires the constant repetition of value of our ally…ally is now synonymous with Israel”. So if Israel is the ally, if loyalty to Israel is “good”, where does that leave the Palestinians?

The outlook is gloomy. With the Arab world in flux, a splintered Palestinian voice, with the U.S. continually looking at Middle Eastern affairs through Israeli eyes, these local elections are taking place unnoticed. While everyone shouts for peace, the most important voice; that of the Palestinian voter is drowned out.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Your Middle East.

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