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Together We Will Build Our Nation
Artist: Anonymous
Dimensions: 27” x 19”
Publisher: The Palestine National Authority’s Central Election Commission (CEC)

This poster is meant to promote the idea of diversity and inclusion as it relates to the post-Oslo effort to promote democracy in Palestine. The graphic shows several long rows of people from all walks of life, both men and women: farmers, medical workers, students, mechanics, writers, artists, religious leaders, and a host of others.


This poster was printed as part of a promotional campaign to encourage Palestinians to register to vote in the 1996 election for the office of ra’is (Arabic: executive president) of the Palestine National Authority, as well as for members of the majlis (Arabic: national parliament). The period for registering, November 12 to December 2, 1995, is clearly printed on the bottom of the poster.

The logo in the lower left hand corner is that of the Central Election Commission, a national agency responsible for administering the elections in accordance with electoral law. Its mission included creation of District Election Offices and Polling Station Commissions, voter education, and voter registration programs.

Though the graphic lacks sophistication, it succeeds in making the parallel points that voting is a right and an obligation of citizenship.

This poster is remarkable in one sense: in terms of addressing gender, age, ethnicity, class, and occupation, it is much more direct and inclusive than posters found in most Third World elections. This may be due to the fact that the Palestinian National Authority had access to professional U.S. and European publicity and election advice. Or, it may have sprung entirely from a Palestinian notion of nation building. However it was conceived and whatever its pedigree, the poster reflects the authentically inclusive political attitude that defined much of mainstream Palestinian society before the Al Aqsa intifada, of September 2000.

The outcome of this 1996 election saw, predictably, Yasser Arafat winning the presidency with 88 percent of the vote.

Elections are nothing new to the Palestinians. Whether in a distant refugee camp, the Occupied Territories, or the Diaspora, Palestinians have organized politically to advance their national cause. But elections don’t create democracy: elections are merely a measure of the citizenry’s enthusiasm for democracy’s potential. In the 1996 election promoted in this poster, 79.7 percent of the registered voters turned out. This occurred despite of the fact that several factions, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), boycotted the election.

Though the Palestinians went through all the motions of organizing the election there were many difficulties and the process was not without it critics.

In the aftermath of the Al Aqsa intifada (September 2000 to present) and the destruction of most Palestinian infrastructure by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the gains of the Oslo process and the election are in a shambles.

Was it worth it? Here is what Edward Said had to say:

It’s important to point out that Arafat’s present administration as well as the Legislative Council have overstayed their original term, which should have ended with a new round of elections in 1999. Moreover, the whole basis of the 1996 elections were the Oslo accords, which in effect simply licensed Arafat and his people to run bits of the West Bank and Gaza for the Israelis, without true sovereignty or security, since Israel retained control of the borders, security, land (on which it doubled and even tripled the settlements), water and air. In other words, the old basis for elections and reform, which had been Oslo, is now null and void. Any attempt to go forward on that kind of platform is simply a wasteful ploy and will produce neither reform nor real elections. Hence the current confusion which causes every Palestinian everywhere to feel chagrin and bitter frustration.

Source: “Palestinian Elections Now,” Counterpunch — June 17, 2002

The critical educational element of this poster is not who ran for office, who won, what parties were represented or any of the other mechanical and procedural aspects of an election. What is important is the hint the poster gives of the existence within Palestinian society of an already sophisticated and vibrant political culture that is universally fluent in its own history. It is also very possible that the kind of democracy that emerges from a genuinely liberated Palestine might set a model for Arab and states, something Bush administration apparatchiks should bear in when pressing for Palestinian political reform as they attempt to implement their “road map” for Middle East peace.

The results of the 1996 election are now history and their fruits lie in ruin. The key point to bear in mind, however, is not that the 1996 election was marked by corruption, technical difficulties, “calculated participation” by some parties, and plain old-fashioned Chicago-style ward politics.

Rather it is that this election marked a homecoming of sorts. The Palestinians in their Diaspora much like the Jewish people in theirs, use their time in exile productively, building an international movement for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Many Palestinians saw this election merely as a dry run, putting those nation building skills into practice on Palestinian national soil for the first time.

© 2003 Liberation Graphics. All Rights Reserved.

Questions for A New
Democratic Discussion

1) Will the outcome of an officially sanctioned Palestinian election process have any impact on domestic U.S. politics?

2) Historically, how have Israeli and U.S. election cycles affected the search for Middle East peace?

3) Why did the U.S. choose not to endorse Palestinian elections in 2001?




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