Blog | Atlanta Journal Constitution Palestine Election Q&A With David Carroll

Former President Jimmy Carter will lead a team of 80 observers today in monitoring legislative elections in the Palestinian territories. The team hopes to provide “an impartial and accurate report” on elections that are as significant as they are controversial. One development that has raised eyebrows in the West: the political participation of Hamas, a group the United States considers a terrorist organization.

David Carroll, director, Democracy Program, talked about Hamas and other topics in a pre-election interview with Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Mark Bixler. Here are excerpts, edited and rearranged for context and clarity:

The Carter Center said it “found several issues which threaten to undermine the success of the election.” What is the most serious threat?

I think there are two or three problems or threats — actually more. Most immediately is what will happen in East Jerusalem. This was the flash point for last year’s presidential elections. There was chaos in East Jerusalem.

Roughly one in 10 Palestinian voters live in East Jerusalem, right?

That’s correct. Something like 330,000 residents and 120,000 eligible voters. In elections in 1996 and 2005, the arrangement that was worked out allowed for 5,000 or 6,000 people only to vote in post offices. The problem last January was that voters did not know where to go. Many were turned away because they weren’t on the voter lists.

Didn’t President Carter personally intervene in East Jerusalem last year?

A: He did. Something like seven to nine of the first 10 voters we saw in several post offices were turned away because they weren’t on the correct voting lists at that location. There was a problem with clearly publicizing who was allowed to vote at which polling stations. There was resentment and frustration and angry crowds. Carter helped arrange a solution: If a Palestinian could show they had registered anywhere in East Jerusalem, they could vote at any of the polling stations.

What about problems posed by the participation of Hamas? The Carter Center said Hamas’ participation “undermines a fundamental principle of democratic elections” because Hamas “defends violence (including the killing of civilians) as a means to achieving a political end, refuses to give up arms . . . and is committed to the destruction of . . . Israel.” What is the problem with having Hamas on the ballot?

When a group refuses to renounce violence, their participation in a democratic political process is problematic. The democratic process should preclude organizations indicating that they have the right to use violence to achieve political ends. What’s important in the longer term is whether Hamas’ participation in the election and, very likely, a significant representation in the legislature, leads them to change their political agenda and engage Israel directly and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Do you think in any way this reflects a shift in tactics for Hamas, away from violence and toward the political process?

Time will tell. It’s certainly open to that interpretation. A lot will depend on what happens after they assume the seats they are very likely to win.

How many seats do you think they will win?

Polling indicates they could easily win a third or even half the seats up for grabs.

What would such a showing mean for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians?

In the short term, unless Hamas made an immediate statement to change its political platform, it’s hard to see how the Israelis would engage the Palestinians.

In the last year, Palestinian voters have gone to the polls in presidential and local elections. Now they’re electing a legislative council. How important are these elections?

This is actually an extremely important election in the sense that this is only the second legislature that will be elected in the Palestinian territories. The outgoing council was universally seen as inefficient and many people accused it of corruption.

What is it exactly that you and President Carter and the other members of the monitoring team will actually do on election day?

What we do on election day is the culmination of months and months of pre-election activity — monitoring the processes like voter registration and the campaign period and electoral-law development. There’s a pretty standard methodology that entails a few days of detailed briefings for the monitors. On election day itself, teams of two deploy throughout the country. Those teams will use a detailed checklist to answer a specific set of questions at each of the polling sites they visit.

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