The Palestinian presidential campaign became tangibly less exciting after the withdrawal of Marwan Barghouti, the only candidate that presented a serious challenge to the main Fateh candidate Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).
Barghouti’s withdrawal itself, however, is significant, because it indicates that there has been a retreat in the political tendency he represents. A recent public opinion poll, which showed that Marwan ran a close second to Abu Mazen in the race, also showed a very clear de-radicalization in several aspects of Palestinian public opinion.
The poll found an increase in optimism over the future, a decline in support to military attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, and an increase in those who support the two-state as opposed to those who support the one-state solution.
In addition, the performance of political groups and public institutions has continued impressively. The process has gone strictly according to the book so far, and everyone is still committed to elections as the way to decide on the new leadership. The close attention paid to the rules and legislation has also increasingly earned the respect of observers, especially as it is happening in spite of continuing Israeli efforts to make this process difficult.
Israel, until now and in spite of assurances to the contrary, has not allowed the resumption of the voter registration in East Jerusalem as in the rest of the occupied territories. So far, there is no reason to think Israel will allow voting in East Jerusalem to proceed with ease.
The campaigning and political activities that should accompany any election process are still subject to the same restrictions on movement that everyone is affected by everywhere in the occupied territories. Public activists and presidential candidates have been subject to harassment and arrest. In addition, Israel persists with its campaign of terrorizing civilians and arresting and assassinating activists, unnecessary activities that only create an atmosphere not conducive to elections.
The international community, which claims to be very enthusiastic about the idea of elections, is not doing much in order to help create any conducive atmosphere. There has been no strong and effective effort to convince or pressure Israel to leave the Palestinians alone for elections. Suspiciously, the international community is not even doing enough to allow for this process in East Jerusalem.
It is obvious is that the only party that is really serious and desperate for free and democratic elections is the Palestinian people. At all levels in society, this is only logical. Anyone vying for leadership understands that the greater their legitimacy, the greater their strength and power, and this legitimacy can only come through elections.
But if this enthusiasm for the democratic and legal process, together with a de-radicalization within public opinion and a moderate and forthcoming attitude from any new leadership, is not going to move the Palestinian people substantially toward their legitimate objective of ending the occupation, then only the opposition camp and the radicals will be able to call the shots in the future.