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Fayyad's Election Initiative

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The belief in Palestine is that the office of the president is responsible for major national and international policies and initiatives, while the office of the prime minister is responsible for executing these policies.

For the most part, this has been the norm in Palestine's temporary capital, Ramallah. The West Bank-Gaza split and attempts to reunite the two Palestinian enclaves have been solely the responsibility of President Mahmoud Abbas. Until now.

After more than five years since Gaza seceded and the failure of repeated attempts at reconciliation, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has decided to introduce his own initiative.

The Fayyad plan was unveiled on Monday during a three-hour post-iftar chat with journalists and writers at the prime ministry in Ramallah.

Unlike previous efforts to reconcile Hamas and Fateh, this initiative is both creative and bold, and most importantly, can be accomplished regardless of who is in power in Gaza, Damascus or Tehran.

The Fayyad plan starts where the current plans end. The last two agreements, drawn up in Doha (and opposed by Gaza-based Hamas leaders) and in Egypt consider parliamentary and presidential elections as the ultimate connection between Hamas and Fateh.

Hamas, which might be afraid of losing power if elections take place (based on public opinion polls), has been coming up with one obstacle after another. The latest was the suspension by the Gaza authorities of the agreed-to efforts to conduct voter registration in cooperation with the independent commission for elections.

Commenting on this failure, Fayyad told his guests that the latest agreement in Cairo talks about elections as one possibility.

The Palestinian prime minister believes elections should take place irrespective of the Gazans' agreement on participation. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority is committed to holding local elections on October 20 no matter what happens in Gaza.

The PA made the announcement months earlier, in the hope that Hamas would change its, but that did not happen and therefore elections for local authorities will only take place in what Palestinian leaders call the northern districts (i.e., the West Bank).

Fayyad believes that on election day, Palestinians in Gaza will see their brothers and sisters vote and not be happy with those in power in the strip who have denied them what people throughout the Arab world are earning for, namely the chance to share in decision-making process.

While local elections are often seen as lacking political meaning, Fayyad notes that during the decades of occupation, Palestinians' local elections reflected the political sensitivities of a particular time.

"If we look closely at the results of student council elections, certainly local elections can be watched as a political barometer of Palestinian attitudes," he said.

But Fayyad does not want to stop at local elections. He also wants to build on the dynamic (and the registration of the voters) to carry out the more important national elections. Here, again, he runs against the conventional thinking that says one cannot have national elections without Gazans and the Islamists.

However, Fayyad, not one to follow conventional thinking, believes that the time is ripe to challenge such belief and hold elections anyway, with or without Hamas.

The Palestinian prime minister, however, knows that in order to give the elections legitimacy, he needs to have some Gazan involvement. So he suggests proportional elections, in which all parties can present election lists. These lists can have as many Gazan candidates as they want.

So, while the Hamas-controlled leadership in Gaza might be able to stop Gazans from voting, it cannot stop their ideological leaders from nominating them.

This idea, if implemented, will further isolate the Gaza-based Hamas leadership.

Naturally, the big question is whether Hamas and affiliated leaders and groups will participate, directly or indirectly.

While the Fayyad plan attempts to hold overdue parliamentary elections, it does not include a presidential poll. The Palestinian prime minister was adamant that his initiative is strictly for a legislative vote.

"The presidential election aims at electing one person and therefore it is impossible to use the same inclusive proportional system of parliamentary elections for the presidential ones," he said.

It is unclear how much support the Fayyad plan has in the muqata (the headquarters of the PA presidency), or if it has any support among the PLO factions. Without support from Abbas, it is impossible for this idea to see the light of day.

What is clear is that Fayyad, minister of finance under Yasser Arafat and resilient prime minister under Abbas, is a national player and perhaps a leading contender for the post of Palestinian president.