Is Israel helping Fatah in the Palestinian municipal elections?

Palestinian municipal elections are due to take place on Saturday.

 Palestinians attend a rally marking the 57th anniversary of Fatah movement foundation (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Palestinians attend a rally marking the 57th anniversary of Fatah movement foundation
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)

Israel is working to help candidates and lists affiliated with the ruling Fatah faction win municipal elections this coming Saturday, Palestinian political activists said Tuesday.

On Monday, the Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC) condemned the Israeli authorities for “arresting and detaining” a number of candidates who are running in the local elections.

The CEC said it “considers this to be an explicit interference in the electoral process and a violation of freedoms and democratic practices.”

The CEC called for the immediate release of the arrested and detained candidates and said it views the practices of the Israeli authorities as “dangerous.”

A senior Israeli security source denied the allegations and said all those who were taken into custody are suspected of involvement in various terrorist activities.

 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas makes a speech during the Palestinian Central Council (PLO) meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank, February 6, 2022. (credit: PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT OFFICE (PPO)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas makes a speech during the Palestinian Central Council (PLO) meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank, February 6, 2022. (credit: PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT OFFICE (PPO)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

The first phase of the municipal elections, which were held last December, included more than 380 localities in the West Bank. The second phase of the elections, scheduled to take place on Saturday, will include 66 localities, 55 of which are in Area A and Area B of the West Bank.

Hamas and other Palestinian groups decided to boycott the municipal elections and prevent them from taking place in the Gaza Strip. The local elections should be held together with the vote for the Palestinian parliament and presidency, they said.

The parliamentary and presidential elections were supposed to take place last year. However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called off the vote, citing Israel’s alleged refusal to allow the elections to take place in Jerusalem.

The upcoming elections are seen by Palestinians as a test for Fatah’s power and popularity, especially in big cities such as Hebron, Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm.

Fatah officials had expressed dissatisfaction with the results of the first phase of the elections, saying their candidates did not win enough seats in many localities.

Over the past week, several activists said Israel had arrested or detained candidates affiliated with lists that are competing with Fatah. The crackdown on Fatah’s rivals was the result of the ongoing security coordination between the PA and Israel, the activists said.

The most recent arrest was that of Islam al-Tawil, head of a Hamas-affiliated list that is running for the elections in El-Bireh, the twin city of Ramallah.

Tawil was arrested hours after his rivals in Fatah urged residents not to vote for Hamas candidates because they would anyway be arrested by Israel, a Palestinian political activist said.

The IDF also arrested Emad Abu Awwad, another candidate running in the list headed by Tawil.

While the IDF has been arresting candidates who do not belong to Fatah, Israel gave some Fatah candidates VIP cards that enable them to pass through military checkpoints without being stopped, activist Sanaa Issa said.

Tawil’s colleagues denied that their list is affiliated with Hamas or any other Palestinian group.

“We are an independent list, and our goal is to serve the residents of our city,” said a representative for the “all-Bireh Unites Us” list.

Another candidate who was arrested by the IDF is Abdel Karim Farrah, of Hebron, who is on the Hamas-affiliated “Loyalty to Hebron” list.

Also in Hebron, the IDF arrested Sufyan Jamjoum, a Hamas activist involved with the local elections, whose wife, Sanaa Jamil Jamjoum, is one of the candidates running in the municipal elections in Hebron as part of an independent list.

“Israel is playing a big role in supporting the Fatah candidates and lists,” said political activist Ghassan Banat, whose brother, Nizar, was beaten to death by PA security forces in Hebron last year. “The municipal elections are based on politics and clans. Israel has been assisting Fatah candidates by granting them various privileges.”

Political activist Fadi Elsalameen told The Jerusalem Post he believes Israel is helping PA security officials take hold of the municipalities in the West Bank.

“The Israelis think that this will reduce the pressure of controlling the West Bank,” he said. “The modus operandi of the PA is corruption regardless of what happens on the ground. But instead of easing the pressure, the Israeli actions will end up backfiring and causing things to further deteriorate, if not explode.”