flint | 17.01.2005 13:34
So the partially free and fair elections are over. Generally they were very well organized and executed, bar the restricting behaviour of the Israelis in Jerusalem and some unsporting behaviour by Palestinians in some parts of the West Bank and Gaza.
In Jerusalem the post offices used as polling stations were manned by Israeli employees and were swarming with Israeli 'post office security' as they called themselves. A security arm unheard of until election day. Security personal are not allowed inside the stations without good reason. And, as the polling booths were not enclosed, voting was not confidential. These factors created an intimidating atmosphere and contravened the election regulations. The intimidation was further increased with the arrival of religeous right wing settlers who intimidated both Palestinian voters and international observers. As it was, a number of those who braved the heavy Israeli presence were refused the right to vote anyway because their names were not on the voting list even though they had registration cards for that particular centre. These lists were drawn up by the Israeli authorities.
In Gaza, where I spent two days observing with the British MP Jeremy Corbyn, there were also mixed reports. The actual execution of the election and voting process was very good with the election officers clearly taking pride in there work and following the procedures closely. Unfortunately there were some abuses by the voters themselves. At around 5pm, two hours before close of polls, an announcement was made on Palestinian radio that the stations would remain open until 9pm instead of 7pm. They also said that anyone with Palestinian id who hadn’t registered to vote could do so, soley relying on the special ink to indicate whether they had voted already. I witnessed a barrage of young men fiercely jostling to get into the polling stations leaving the Palestinian security struggling to keep control and prevent too many people rushing the polling station at once. It was later said to me by two eminent doctors that Fatah was offering 50 shekels to young men to board a bus which took them from station to station to vote more than the one time allowed. Two lawyers I spoke to in the same polling station showed me how the special ink that can’t come off came off (with olive oil)! Thus allowing people to vote again. A fellow observer also reported seeing a plaster being put on the inked thumb and offering the other when voting for presumably the second time. This showed a lack of diligence by the election officer.
On the Israeli side it appeared they did open up the checkpoints to allow free movement by both observers and Palestinians. This was evident when we queued no more than 30 minutes to get through the infamous Abu Holi checkpoint just before the turn off for the main Israeli settlement of Gush Katif and on the way to Khan Yunis and Rafah from Gaza city. Although we found this was not the case trying to enter Al Muwasi at 6.45am on election day. The only checkpoint and entry point into this strip of land, sandwiched between Gush Katif settlement and the beach, seemed to be closed to the resident Palestinians waiting, of which there were about 60 by the time we'd waited one and half hours to gain entry. We were told some people had been waiting up to six days to return home. On leaving the area through the Ta-Fah checkpoint we witnessed over 100 people waiting to get in. I cannot confirm how many if any were allowed to enter but this did not constitute freedom of movement as promised by the Israelis and would contravene their right to vote.
Mahmoud Abas was sworn in yesterday after getting around 62% of the vote. It should be noted that approximately 50% of those entitled to vote did so. What can be read from this? Hamas, the leading Islamist party boycotted the presidential elections and it is therefore likely a lot of their supporters followed suit. Hamas is particularly strong in Gaza and Hebron. There are those who said what is the point in voting when we know who will win? And there are those who did not like or trust any of the candidates, not least the winner Mahmoud Abas.
Since the results have been announced a number of Palestinians have talked about the ‘real’ Mahmoud Abas. They claim he is known to have benefited from PA funds, some even calling him a thief. As of yet, I have not been given an alternate explanation as to how he paid for the US$2million house I saw in ‘Mahmoud Abas Square’ in Gaza City. Some of the people I spoke to say that he is in it for the power, status, foreign trips and money and do not trust him to achieve concessions from Israel, but rather, will give concessions himself. Coming back from Ramallah the taxi driver said, ‘He has two years and if he doesn’t prove himself we will remove him’. A sentiment echoed by the others I spoke to.