Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, in the West Bank December 22, 2018..
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Two days before Israeli government coalition leaders announced that general elections will take place on April 9, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made a statement that was hardly noticed by many in Israel.
Speaking at a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah last Saturday, Abbas said that the Palestinians, too, will be heading to the polls.
“The Palestinian Constitutional Court has decided to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and call for parliamentary elections within six months,” Abbas said. The decision, he added, will soon be published in the Palestinian official gazette.
But while the decision to hold early elections in Israel has engendered excitement and competition among political parties, politicians and pundits, the initiative to hold elections for the Palestinian parliament has intensified tensions between Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction and Hamas.
The Fatah-Hamas rift, which reached its peak with Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, is the main reason why Palestinians have not been able to hold long overdue presidential and parliamentary elections.
Abbas’s four-year-term in office expired in 2009, while the mandate of the PLC ended a year later. In light of the continued power struggle between the two rival parties, the prospect of holding new elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is slim to none.
Hamas leaders say they are fully confident that their group would win in any election, provided it’s held in a fair and free climate.
Hamas, nonetheless, says there’s no way free and fair elections could ever take place in the West Bank when Abbas and Israel are separately cracking down on its supporters there. Likewise, Abbas and his Fatah officials say it would be impossible to hold free and fair elections in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas continues to harass and intimidate their supporters.
The decision to dissolve the PLC, which has anyway been paralyzed since 2007, has drawn strong condemnations from Hamas, whose leaders have accused Abbas of acting in violation of the Palestinian Basic Law. They have also described the decision as a “severe blow” to Egyptian efforts to end the Hamas-Fatah rift.
Hamas officials said on Thursday that they were not opposed to the idea of holding elections for the presidency and parliament. However, they pointed out that in wake of Abbas’s “unconstitutional decision,” as well as his punitive measures against the Gaza Strip, which include the suspension of payments to thousands of civil servants there, there’s a fat chance of seeing Palestinian voters heading the ballot boxes in the near future.
Hamas is also convinced that Abbas does not really want to hold new elections because he’s afraid he will loose the vote.
“If the elections are fair and free, Abbas will suffer a stunning defeat,” said senior Hamas official Mohammed Nazzal. “When Abbas agreed to hold the parliamentary election in 2006, he was expecting Fatah to win.”
In the 2006 PLC election, the Hamas-affiliated list, Change and Reform, won 74 out of the 132 seats, while Fatah won just 45.
In an interview with a Hamas-controlled television station that will be broadcast on Friday, Nazzal ruled out the possibility that elections would be held in the foreseeable future. Denouncing Abbas’s decision to dissolve the PLC as “lacking in wisdom,” the Hamas official said that there were “no guarantees” that elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be fair and free. “If Abbas wants to hold new elections, why did he dissolve the parliament?” he asked.
Hamas says that it does not recognize Abbas’s decision to dissolve the parliament, and will continue to convene the council separately in the Gaza Strip. On Wednesday, Hamas and other Palestinian factions attended a session of the PLC for the first time since Abbas made his announcement – a move that is seen as a direct challenge to the PA president and that further solidifies the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Palestinian political analysts said on Thursday that even if Abbas proceeds with his plan to hold new elections, they will take place only in the West Bank.
Earlier this week, Abbas met with the chairman of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, Hana Naser, and discussed with him ways of preparing for holding a parliamentary election. The meeting was aimed at sending a message to Hamas that Abbas was serious about holding the election.
The analysts believe that Hamas and several Palestinian factions will most likely boycott the upcoming election – a move that would result in the election of a Fatah-dominated parliament. In such a case, they noted, Hamas may hold its own parliamentary election in the Gaza Strip and establish a separate parliament controlled by its own men.
On Thursday, the PA government in Ramallah expressed hope that the upcoming parliamentary election would pave the way for “ending Palestinian divisions and restoring national unity.” The controversy that has erupted in the aftermath of Abbas’s decision to dissolve the parliament, however, suggests that the Palestinians are actually headed in the opposite direction – increased schism and disunity.
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