Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Palestine at the polls

Caroline Lucas draws inspiration from the recent Palestinian presidential election, but warns that US and Israeli policies still stand in the way of progress.

February 1, 2005
4 min read

Monitoring the Palestinian presidential election with a delegation of Euro-MPs was a lesson is both humility and optimism: optimism as I witnessed the intellectual vitality of the banter between polling centre staff and the zeal with which Palestinians exercised their hard-fought right to make their voice heard, and humility as I compared the experience with the luke-warm enthusiasm with which so many voters treat elections here in the UK.

I had never imagined that sitting up until midnight on a freezing night in Hebron would teach me so much, but as I huddled round the brazier in a classroom-turned-polling station, watching the tellers tally up the votes on the blackboard, I felt I was enjoying a lesson in enthusiasm for democracy. For a few hours I almost forgot that the election was taken place under military occupation and that just yards away 450 Israeli settlers were guarded by 2000 soldiers – almost, but the reality came back as soon as we re-crossed the checkpoint into Israeli-controlled Jerusalem.

The Palestinians elected Mahmoud Abbas in a truly remarkable display of commitment to democracy under the most challenging of circumstances. With some polling arrangements kept under wraps until election day and some polling stations run by occupation soldiers it’s incredible that a relatively free and fair election could take place at all.

Perhaps the worst Israeli interference took place in East Jerusalem. Over a hundred thousand voters were forced to choose between voting outside the city – and risk losing their residence status in the city Palestinians dream of becoming their capital – or staying at home and not voting.

For the 6,000 residents who were allowed to vote in the city, all postal voting became a humiliating ritual designed to break their self-respect and send a clear signal that Palestinians would never control East Jerusalem. Instead of polling stations, they were forced to vote in post offices, placing their ballots in envelopes and post boxes rather than ballot boxes, all under the watchful gaze of Israeli officials. The message was clear – Palestinian electors resident in East Jerusalem were to be considered ex-pats, living in Israel but allowed to send their votes ‘back’ to Palestine only thanks to the generosity and administrative efficiency of the Israeli authorities.

Some candidates were denied the full freedom of movement they needed to campaign effectively in East Jerusalem during the weeks leading up to the election – the main challenger, independent candidate Mustafa Barghouti, was arrested the day before the election and released, reportedly, only after the intervention of former US president Jimmy Carter.

The official EU election monitoring mission praised the conduct of the elections, and recognised the difficult conditions imposed on Palestinian officials and voters by Israeli occupation. The Palestinian Authority had made a “genuine effort to conduct a regular electoral process despite the difficult and tense conditions”, a spokesperson for the mission – at 250-strong the largest in the EU’s history – said in a preliminary statement.

In spite of the obstacles, the Palestinian people clearly demonstrated their commitment to the democratic process. Turnout, at more than 50 per cent in many areas, was impressive even by Western standards, especially considering the widespread prediction that Mahmoud Abbas would win by a landslide.

Though this is, of course, to be welcomed as a positive step towards peace in the Middle East, we must remember that the real problem in the Palestinian territories is not lack of democracy- it’s the illegal Israeli occupation.

Much hope has been pinned on Mahmoud Abbas’s shoulders: the US, Israel and the world’s media have been quick to pronounce their willingness to do business with Mahmoud Abbas in a way which they had refused to with his predecessor Yasser Arafat. Yet this optimism is already at risk of dissolving in the wake of an Israeli assassination mission and a ‘retaliatory’ attack by Palestinian militants.

Much has been made of Mahmoud Abbas’s responsibility to rein in the Palestinian militants. Of course this is a major challenge, but the Israeli and US authorities must also take urgent stock of their own policies and responsibilities in the occupied territories if he is to stand even a chance of meeting it. In short, Israel must end the occupation and disband all illegal settlements immediately – in the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip – and dismantle its so-called ‘security barrier’ which is dividing communities, destroying livelihoods and annexing Palestinian land throughout the occupied territories.

Only then will there be hope for a peaceful resolution to the weeping sore of conflict in the region and a better future for everyone, Israeli and Palestinian.Caroline Lucas is a Green Party MEP for South-East England and a veteran peace campaigner and Palestine-watcher. She was part of the European Parliament election observation mission in Palestine.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun