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Good News on the Palestinian Front

This seems encouraging: Ha’aretz reports that Palestinian proponents of liberal democracy are mobilizing to provide an alternative to the gunman kleptocracy of Fatah on the one hand and the Islamist theocracy of Hamas on the other.

An earlier attempt in this vein, in which now prime minister Salam Fayyad took a leading role, yielded paltry results at the polls. This time, however, Palestinian liberals hope to benefit from widespread disgust at the internecine fighting between Hamas and Fatah.

This is certainly good news.

But, in the interest of finding a dark cloud in every silver lining, I do have to confess a certain concern that the emergence of such a movement as an electoral force might split the vote of Palestinian opponents of Hamas. It’s worth recalling that Hamas, in its 2006 electoral victory, won a parliamentary majority without winning a majority of the popular vote. The Islamist movement’s victory was due in large part to Fatah’s inability to maintain a united front. Instead, candidates aligned with Fatah competed with one another, handing the election to the more disciplined Hamas.

The recent rout of Fatah in Gaza underscored that Palestinians desperately need an alternative to Hamas that is dedicated to building democracy, advancing human rights and fighting corruption. One can only help that efforts to build such a movement do not yield unintended consequences.

UPDATE: The New York Times reports that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is planning on ending constituency-based voting in the next elections. That’s where Fatah’s disarray resulted in Hamas picking up a ton of seats. By moving to a more strictly proportional system, Abbas would be removing the danger that a third party could siphon votes from Fatah thereby handing victory to Hamas. So my silver lining no longer has a dark cloud accompanying it.

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