Electioneering by way of assassination.
It's happening. And I'm not talking about character assassination -this is the real thing. And it's happening in the Palestinian Authority. It's the way Hamas takes care of business, even that most democratic of all businesses, the business of elections.
Hamas leadership has put out a "hit" on Fatah leader and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Faayad. The "hit" was issued in the form of a public announcement. Hamas is accusing Faayad of letting down the Palestinian people. They are claiming that Faayad is not true to the Palestinian cause. They maintain that he is not the appropriate man to lead the Palestinians.
The question begs asking: Why make a public statement? Hamas has never had any trouble assassinating people, why not just do it and then gloat about it in true Hamas fashion?
The answer is: elections.
Hamas knows that they have lost favor with the Palestinian people. They know that elections are looming and that if elections were to be held now, they would be the ones taking the hit and their popularity with the voters would drop to about only 12% - 14%. A voter return that low would mean that Hamas would lose all political power and be sent back to the margins, to the fringes of Palestinian society. It would mean political death for Hamas. It would mean back to courting the public with soup kitchens and health care and child care and hoping that those ploys would one day work again as they did three and four and five years ago, before humanitarian issues were replaced with guns, gangs and street fights.
Now Hamas has about three to four months to prepare for elections. And their chosen method of electioneering appears to be to sway voters their way by way of the death threat. To the Western mind this seems absurd, preposterous, counter productive and just plain illegal. To the Palestinian mind it makes perfect sense.
The world of Palestinian politics is divided into two camps - forever divided because they will never agree on anything relating to the future direction of Palestinian society. There is a political-national camp and there is an Islamic camp. Hamas already has the Islamic camp, but it is not a large enough voting bloc to sway let alone win an election, so now they must go after the political-national camp.
As prime minister, Salam Faayad is the supposed leader of the political-national camp, Hamas is trying to sway the voters to their own ranks by undermining Faayad's dedication to the people and more important, his commitment to the Palestinian cause.
The Hamas "hit" announced that the government of Salam Faayad is predicated on a platform that does not include the "resistance." The "hit" proclaims that Faayad has capitulated to the demands of the United States and of Israel to recognize Israel and to reject "resistance."
In Palestinian-speak, that is heretical.
In Palestinian-speak "resistance" is the codeword for "terror".
Hamas is saying that Fatah are traitors to the political-nationalist cause created by Yasser Arafat. They are saying that they, Hamas, carry on the real legacy of the Palestinian people because it is they, Hamas, who embrace "resistance" and it is they who do not recognize Israel and do not bow down to Israel and the United States of America.
Hamas knows what they are doing. They know that the inclusion of the Arabic word for "resistance" was the cause of major debate during the creation of their short-lived unity government with Fatah and they know that inclusion of the term is a deal breaker for continued support from the United States. Hamas is banking on the fact that even if this "hit" does not literally kill Faayad, it will kill his political career and bring about the political downfall of Fatah.
Faayad knows that too. So to save face and to gain back potential swing voters and supporters he took the opportunity of being at an Arab League meeting in Cairo to hold a press conference and issue his own announcement. Of course we embrace "resistance" he said, even if it is not specifically mentioned in the platform - "resistance" is such an obvious fundamental principle for all Palestinians who live under occupation that it need not be in the platform, it goes without saying.
Now Faayad is caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place. By placating his own Palestinian supporters he is seriously at risk of alienating his financial and diplomatic supporters. The United States and Israel remember well the lessons learned under Arafat and they will in no way be caught in the web of double messaging again. Yasser Arafat was a master when it came to making pronouncements, in English, to the West and then recanting those pronouncements, in Arabic, for the Palestinian people. The United States and Israel are asking, nay demanding, that now Palestinian leadership be upright and straightforward and talk about Israel as a peace partner. And they want the people to be educated to that end.
Hamas is trying to win an election. What is this world coming to?