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Statement Arab Educational Institute (Bethlehem) on the political future after the Palestinian Elections

Appeal to peace movements world wide.
AEI, Bethlehem, 20th of January, 2005.
On 9 January 2005, the Palestinian people practiced their right to cast their votes. They elected Mr Mahmoud Abbas (Abou Mazen) as the new president of the Palestinian National Authority to replace the late Mr Yasser Arafat. Abou Mazen was elected by a majority of 62% of the number of the ballots cast. According to local, regional and international observers the elections were fair and democratic. The Palestinians showed a remarkably good standard of organization, discipline, respect, and political awareness - the more so since the context of a harsh occupation; the obstacles the Jerusalemites faced in voting, and the various limitations on the freedom of movement even during election day, hardly provided a conducive setting for an exercise in democracy.

The choice of Abu Mazen is proof that the Palestinians are longing for a just peace, an end to occupation, and an end to violence and bloodshed. They are ready and determined to give the peace process another chance. The elections, moreover, showed the emergence of a significant democratic opposition, which may help to reshape political decision-making in Palestinian society. Under the new circumstances it is expected that the role and position of the civil society organizations, by themselves an essential indicator of democratic health, will expand. The new democratic experience helps the Palestinian people to give themselves another period for evaluation, calm and re-planning for an internal reform on all levels and to strengthen national unity and formulate a unified national program. In doing so, our democratic experience under the most difficult of circumstances may well constitute a working model for the political regimes in the region.

After Abu Mazen's election there is now an opportunity to resume the peace process on the Palestinian-Israeli track. This possibility requires intensive and very hard work from both Palestinians, Israelis, and concerned citizens and governments abroad. It requires not only a strong and focused diplomatic effort in the service of peace, justice and security to both peoples - an effort which should not be limited to a withdrawal from Gaza but address the occupation as a whole - but also a non-violent grassroots, pro-active struggle against occupation in which civil society organizations must play an important role. It furthermore requires the active participation of the international civil community and concerned governments in asking an immediate and unconditional cessation by Israel of all forms of violence, incursions, expropriations and Wall-building inside the Palestinian Occupied Territories. This demand, which is in accordance with international law, is now all the more justified after Abu Mazen's courageous and unambiguous declarations, both before and after the elections, to bring the militarization of the Intifada to an end.

Against this background, we make an appeal to peace movements worldwide to support us in giving peace a real chance, and to help us all in preventing that the ray of hope provided by the Palestinian elections once again turns into the sting of disillusion.

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