Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sources in the Islamic Jihad Movement in the West Bank have revealed that the movement is about to conduct its first internal elections since its establishment in the mid-1970s.
The sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the elections, which will follow similar procedures to those conducted by the Fatah and Hamas movements recently, will take place within the next few months. This information was subsequently confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat by other Islamic Jihad sources in Gaza.
The sources explain that these elections were decided upon after leading members of the movement requested the establishment of an internal regulatory system, to act as the primary reference for the various institutions of the movement, including the political bureau and its subsidiary forums. After an extensive study was conducted within Palestine and abroad – taking into account the views of Islamic Jihad inmates held in Israeli prisons – an agreement was reached stipulating the adoption of a system based on elections.
The primary reason behind the request [for an internal regulatory system] stemmed from the emergence of several disputes among different currents within the movement in Gaza, over issues of power and public policy, together with the wider debate within Islamic Jihad regarding relations with Hamas and Fatah and the issue of resistance, in addition to disputes over individual powers and entitlements.
The sources claim that well-known officials in Islamic Jihad, including Abdullah al-Shami and Abu Hazim al-Najjar, have led moves within the movement in order to draw up regulatory statutes, and to elect the future leadership of the movement through elections.
After several disputes behind the scenes, Islamic Jihad decided to develop its institutional framework, and to form various committees and bodies “to widen the role of the movement within Palestinian society, instead of restricting it to armed activities”.
The movement’s current political bureau was selected some two years ago, and it has played a pivotal role in the decision to conduct elections in future. Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ramadan Abdullah Shallah has been entrusted with the first and last word on the issue, in consultation with his deputy and several leaders in Gaza and the West Bank.
The elections, which Islamic Jihad intends to hold within six months at the latest, will incorporate the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the views of the movement’s members based abroad or imprisoned. Islamic Jihad will form a body to supervise these elections in an appropriate manner, in order to guarantee they are conducted with full transparency, being the first time such measures have been undertaken since Dr. Fathi Shiqaqi first established the movement in Egypt.
The sources revealed that Islamic Jihad’s membership base will elect a new political bureau to replace the one formed some two years ago, as well as the leaderships of regional offices and subsidiary forums. According to the sources, these elections aim to “inject new young blood into the leadership of the movement, and install new system that will guarantee the continuous development of the movement’s institutions at various levels.”
Islamic Jihad is considered the third strongest faction in the Palestinian arena after Fatah and Hamas. However, its role was weakened significantly after Hamas tightened its grip over Gaza, and Fatah tightened its grip over the West Bank. Islamic Jihad tries to maintain equidistant from its two rival factions, promoting a model of centrist Islam that aims to “liberate Palestine from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the River [Jordan]” and to “promote Islam with its creed, Sharia, and ethics”. It “relies on the Koran as a principle, and Islam as the solution.” However, Islamic Jihad disagrees politically with Hamas over its handling of the resistance project, as well as its stance towards the Palestinian Authority and its participation within it.
The reorganization of the Islamic Jihad ranks may prove to be the catalyst behind the “grand project” promoted by some of its officials along with Hamas, namely the integration of all Palestinian factions into one entity. However, the restructure of the movement may also jeopardize unification altogether, and this depends on the individuals who emerge on the scene after the elections.