Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti has decided to run in the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary election on a separate list, a move that is seen as a major challenge to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah leadership, Palestinian sources said on Tuesday.
Palestinians predicted that the crisis in Fatah could prompt Abbas to delay or cancel the parliamentary and presidential elections, slated for May 22 and July 31, respectively.
Sources close to Barghouti, who, in 2004 was sentenced to five consecutive life terms and 40 years for his involvement in three terrorist attacks in Israel that killed five people, is expected to present his electoral list to the Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC) in the coming hours.
“Barghouti has informed his family and friends of his intention to form his own list for the parliamentary election,” the sources told a number of Arab and Palestinian media outlets.
The New Arab website and the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen television channel quoted Palestinian sources as confirming that Barghouti has decided to contest the parliamentary election through an independent list.
“Barghouti has instructed his followers to form a separate list that would be presented to the CEC on Wednesday,” the sources claimed.
Other sources, however, said that Barghouti has not yet made a final decision regarding his participation in the elections.
A public opinion poll published by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research on March 23 showed that if Barghouti forms his own list, he would win 28% of the vote as opposed to 22% for the official Fatah list. The poll also showed that Barghouti would defeat Abbas in a presidential election.
Abbas and senior Fatah officials have threatened to expel any member of the faction who runs on a separate list.
Recently, Nasser al-Kidwa, a veteran member of the Fatah Central Committee, was expelled from the faction after he announced his intention to form his own list for the parliamentary election, which has been set for May 22.
Kidwa, a nephew of former PLO leader Yasser Arafat, was also fired from his job as chairman of the Yasser Arafat Foundation in Ramallah.
A senior Fatah official told The Jerusalem Post that Barghouti will also be expelled from the faction if he proceeds with his plan to form his own list.
“If true, Barghouti’s decision to run on a separate list would be a severe blow to Abbas and the Fatah leadership,” a Palestinian political analyst told the Post.
In an attempt to prevent Barghouti from forming his own list, Abbas dispatched senior Fatah official Hussein al-Sheikh to meet with the imprisoned Fatah leader in his prison cell a few weeks ago.
During the meeting, al-Sheikh reportedly tried to persuade Barghouti not to challenge Abbas and the Fatah leadership in the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Palestinian officials, meanwhile, threatened to call off the general elections unless Israel allows Jerusalem Arabs to participate in the polls.
Some Palestinians said that the PA leadership was using the controversy surrounding Jerusalem as an excuse to delay or cancel the elections.
The threat came as the deadline for registering electoral lists for the parliamentary election with the CEC expires at midnight Wednesday.
The threat also came as Fatah was expected to present its list in the coming hours.
The CEC announced that 25 electoral lists had registered for the parliamentary election by Tuesday evening.
Several major Palestinian factions, including Hamas and the PLO’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) have submitted their electoral lists to the CEC.
Supporters of deposed Fatah operative Mohammed Dahlan and former PA prime minister Salam Fayyad have also submitted their lists for the parliamentary election.
Palestinian sources said that Abbas and senior Fatah officials have been holding intensive discussions over the past few days to complete the composition of their electoral list.
According to the sources, fierce competition among senior Fatah officials is the main reason behind the delay in the registration of the list to the CEC.
Two senior Palestinian officials, Azzam al-Ahmed and Ahmed Majdalani, said on Tuesday that there would be no elections without the participation of Jerusalem’s Arab residents.
According to the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (Annex II), “a number of Palestinians of Jerusalem will vote in the [Palestinian] elections through services rendered in [Israeli] post offices in Jerusalem.”
Arab residents of Jerusalem participated in the three previous Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections.
“There will be no elections without Jerusalem, which is a major partner in the democratic process,” Ahmed told the PA’s Palestine TV.
Holding the vote in Jerusalem, Ahmed said, is “considered a rejection of Israeli measures and former US president Donald Trump’s measures regarding the ‘occupied Palestinian capital.’”
He was referring to Trump’s 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Palestinian allegations that Israel is working to “Judaize” the city and ban the Palestinians from carrying out political and other activities there.
Ahmed, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said that his faction was in agreement with Hamas that there would be no elections if Jerusalem Arabs were barred from presenting their candidacy or cast their ballots in the city.
He further claimed that Israel has notified international observers, including the Europeans, that they would not be permitted to monitor the vote due to the coronavirus.
Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said that it would be impossible to hold the elections without the participation of Jerusalem Arabs. He said that the Arab residents of the city should be allowed to vote inside Jerusalem and called on the international community to exert pressure on Israel to facilitate the elections.
The chairman of the CEC, Hanna Nasser, met on Tuesday with the head of the European Union Delegation to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Sven Kuehn Von Burgsdorff, and urged him to put pressure on Israel to allow Jerusalem Arabs to participate in the elections in the city.
Under the auspices of the PA, dozens of Fatah members demonstrated outside the PLC building in Ramallah and urged calling off the elections unless they are also held in Jerusalem.
Mutasem Tayem, head of the “Jerusalem Unit” in the PA president’s office, called on Palestinian groups to oppose the elections unless the Jerusalem Arabs are allowed to vote and run as candidates.