PA considers postponing elections

Poll says Hamas will defeat a divided Fatah; Abbas a distant third.

hamas rally 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas rally 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority officials hinted Monday that next month's parliamentary elections could be postponed because of the ongoing power struggle in the ruling Fatah party and because of Israel's objection to the participation of Jerusalem Arabs. Earlier in the day a Palestinian court decided that the ruling party can still submit a single list for the parliamentary elections, ending the split and reducing the threat of a Hamas victory. Fatah's disgruntled young guard broke away and presented its own list of candidates a few weeks ago under the name "Future." Eager to bring the young guard back into the fold, PA and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas agreed to award top slots to many of the younger activists who had done well in Fatah primaries. A public opinion poll published Monday showed that Hamas was expected to win 31.4 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections. The new al-Mustaqbal list, which was formed earlier this month by jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, came in second with 26.8%. The official Fatah list, which was announced by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the veteran leadership of the party, received only 17.7%. The poll, conducted by al-Najah University in Nablus, also showed that former PA finance minister Salam Fayyad's Third Way list was expected to receive less than 5% of the vote. More than 1,300 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip participated in the poll.The margin of error in the poll was three percentage points. Alarmed by the results of the new poll, Fatah officials were trying on Monday to persuade Hamas to agree to the postponement of the elections, sources close to Hamas told The Jerusalem Post. According to the sources, many Fatah leaders were worried that the crisis in their party would undermine their chances of winning a majority of seats in the 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council. "This poll should sound an alarm bell for Fatah," a top Fatah operative in Ramallah said. "It's now obvious that we are headed toward a humiliating defeat." Fatah officials said the ongoing squabbling in the party was the main reason why many Palestinians were planning to vote for Hamas and other lists. "Fatah has lost at least 40% of its power because of the power struggle between the young generation and the old guard in the party," said a Fatah activist from Jerusalem. PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei on Monday said the elections might be delayed because the "current circumstances" were not suitable for holding them. Speaking at the weekly PA cabinet meeting in Ramallah, Qurei said, "In order to hold the elections on time, we must have a proper and healthy atmosphere. Otherwise, we won't be ashamed to say that we can't hold the elections." However, Qurei, like many other PA officials, said the elections could be postponed because of Israel's attempts to prevent Arab residents of Jerusalem from taking part and because of its military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "No Palestinian would be able to participate in the elections if Jerusalem is excluded," Qurei said. "The current security situation and Israeli invasions [of Palestinian areas] don't provide a safe atmosphere for holding the elections." Last week Qurei withdrew his candidacy from the official Fatah list in protest against Abbas's decision to exclude him and other veteran Fatah leaders. Abbas has been trying over the past week to persuade Barghouti to join the official Fatah list. He has reportedly accepted Barghouti's demands to scrap the names of all the old guard candidates from the list in favor of younger activists. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat hinted that the elections might be postponed if Israel barred Jerusalem's Arab residents from voting. Erekat's warning came during a meeting he had Sunday night with Shimon Peres in Tel Aviv. Erekat said Israel must respect previous agreements that allowed Arab residents of Jerusalem to cast their ballots through Israeli post office branches, as was the case in the first parliamentary elections in 1996. He said the PA was now seeking US and EU pressure on Israel to allow the vote to take place in the city. In a related development, Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, announced Monday that it would boycott the elections and urged Abbas to postpone the vote. At a press conference in the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah, masked gunmen from the group said it was inconceivable to hold the elections at a time when Israel was continuing to launch military raids in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They also called on all Palestinian factions to boycott the elections. Nahed al-Rayess, a legislator from Gaza City, warned the PA against delaying the elections, saying such a move would increase frustration and despair among Palestinians. "Postponing the elections will have dangerous repercussions for the Palestinians, who are looking forward with hope," he said. "We can't remain human without hope."