Sommaire: EU Parliament - MEPs oversee historic Palestinian election (30 January 2006: Brussels)
Palestinian voted on 25 January to elect a legislature for the first time since 1996. 27 Members of the European Parliament were there to observe the election process. They visited polling stations in East Jerusalem, across the West Bank and Gaza. Their initial verdict on the process was largely positive. Parliament will be giving a political reaction to the results of the vote and its consequences at this week's plenary session, attended by the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
The Parliament's President Josep Borrell said that he "would like to salute the determination of the Palestinian people.....who in spite of very difficult conditions went in very large numbers to the polling stations to express their democratic choice. Democracy has spoken, the result must be respected and accepted". However he went on to warn Hamas that the "use of violence is not compatible with the rules of democracy".
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament also gave the result a cautious welcome. Meeting in Brussels last Thursday members called on Hamas to cease violence and recognise the State of Israel. Also present was the European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who termed the elections a "success" as they had been largely peaceful.
Electoral observation missions are a regular part of the European Parliament's work. There were 18 such missions in 2005, covering countries from Afghanistan to Bolivia. The presence of international observers reduces the risk of electoral fraud and can help increase confidence in an electoral process in countries without a longstanding democratic tradition. The Palestinian election, taking place in occupied territories and after reports of tension between different Palestinian factions, presented a particular challenge for election observers. This, together with a commitment to a peaceful future for the Middle East - is why Parliament's delegation was unusually large. Twenty seven MEPs took part, so as to be able to cover as wide an area as possible.
They were led by British Conservative MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, who is also a Vice-President of Parliament. As usual for this type of mission, they were working closely alongside a wider, long term EU observation mission, made up of professional election observers. This overall EU observation was also led by an MEP, in this case Belgian socialist Veronique de Keyser. The long term observers spent the two months before the election on the ground, with the MEPs joining them for the final week.
Before the vote, Parliament's delegation met representatives of all the main party lists and the Palestinian election authorities. They also had consultations with the wider EU observation mission and the leaders of other international observation groups, including former US President Jimmy Carter.
On election day, the MEPs deployed in teams across the whole area, visiting polling stations in East Jerusalem, Nablus, Qalqilya, Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho and Gaza. Despite earlier press reports of threats against European observers, there were no serious security problems for the MEPs, who were able to witness voting and counting taking place in most areas.
As far as the voting process was concerned, the initial conclusion of the MEPs - and the wider EU mission - was that it had generally gone well. Despite some problems, there was nothing which would indicate that the final result was not the outcome chosen by the voters.
The results of the election, with a clear victory for the Islamist group Hamas, which Israel, the EU and the US all consider a terrorist organisation, raise major questions about how the outside world will deal with the future Palestinian government. Parliament will debate this issue during the plenary session in Brussels this week.