Palestinian Authority crackdown on Hamas 'jeopardizes elections'

Hamas: Abbas looking for excuse to avoid elections

PA security forces scuffle with protesters in Ramallah 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
PA security forces scuffle with protesters in Ramallah 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Palestinian Authority security forces arrested 195 Hamas members in the West Bank during the last week of December 2019, Hamas said Monday.
The arrests, which are seen as another sign of the continued tensions between the PA and Hamas, are likely to hamper efforts to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Under pressure from the European Union, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced his intention to hold long-overdue presidential and parliamentary elections during a speech before the United Nations General Assembly last September.
Hamas and several Palestinian factions have agreed to participate in the elections. Abbas, however, has conditioned the elections on Israel’s agreement to allow residents of east Jerusalem to participate in the vote.
Hamas officials have called on Abbas to issue a presidential decree, setting a date for the vote, even if Israel refuses to allow east Jerusalem residents to cast their ballots. The PA has rejected the Hamas appeal.
The Hamas members arrested by the PA include university students, political activists and ex-prisoners who spent time in Israeli prisons, according to a statement issued by Hamas. Most of the arrests took place in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron.
The statement claimed that the purpose of the arrests was to obtain information about Hamas’s activities ahead of the elections, including the identity of candidates planning to contest the vote on behalf of the Islamist movement.
As part of the crackdown, the PA security forces raided 144 homes of Hamas members and confiscated cash, cellphones and computers, the statement said.
Palestinian political analyst Adnan Abu Amer said the arrests were designed to prevent Hamas from participating in the elections, if and when they are held. He said Israel also has arrested several Hamas members in the West Bank in recent weeks.
Abu Amer said the “joint” PA-Israeli crackdown on Hamas came despite the calm in the West Bank.
“It’s no longer a secret that the Israeli and Palestinian Authority arrests of Hamas members in the West Bank is aimed at weakening Hamas and preventing its leaders from playing any political role,” he said. “The arrests are also aimed at impacting the planned elections and their results. Most of those who are being arrested do not pose a real threat to Israel and the PA.”
Senior Hamas official Salah Bardaweel said Abbas was hoping that Hamas would reject his initiative to hold new elections.
“Abbas was hoping to hold Hamas responsible for thwarting the elections,” he said. “Now that Hamas has agreed to holding the elections, there is no excuse for Abbas not to announce a date for the vote.”
Bardaweel said Abbas was now using the controversy surrounding the participation of east Jerusalem residents as an excuse to avoid holding the elections.
“Unfortunately, some Fatah leaders are urging Abbas to delay the elections because they seek an opportunity to succeed him,” he said.
Bardaweel accused the PA of “intimidating” Hamas members in the West Bank to stop them from participating in the planned elections.
PA officials on Monday said the prospects of holding new elections are slim in light of Israel’s refusal to commit to allowing the vote to take place in east Jerusalem. They said the PA was demanding that east Jerusalem residents be permitted to vote in their neighborhoods and villages inside the boundaries of the Jerusalem Municipality and not in West Bank areas under PA control.
“We have informed the Europeans, who are pressuring us to hold elections, that we can’t hold the elections unless Israel allows the participation of Palestinians in Jerusalem,” one official told The Jerusalem Post. “The Europeans promised to discuss the issue with the Israeli government, but so far we haven’t received a reply.”
Another PA official in Ramallah told the Post he does not believe the Israeli government would allow Palestinians to hold elections inside Jerusalem.
“The right-wing government of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is already waging war on Palestinian political activities in Jerusalem,” the official said. “The Israeli authorities have even banned Palestine TV from operating inside the city. In addition, the Israeli police have imposed severe restrictions on senior Palestinian Authority officials, including Jerusalem Governor Adnan Gheith and Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Fadi al-Hidmi. Under the current circumstances, I don’t see how this government would allow the Palestinian Authority to hold elections in Jerusalem.”
The officials refused to comment on the arrest of dozens of Hamas members in the West Bank.
A PA security official in Ramallah, however, on Monday said the arrests were not related to the planned elections.
“The Palestinian Authority continues to take security measures against anyone suspected of breaking the law,” the official said without elaborating.
Many Palestinians are convinced that neither Abbas nor Hamas are interested in holding new elections, Palestinian political analyst Emad Mansour told the Post, adding: “The gap between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas remains as wide as ever.”
“The impression is that the two parties are searching for any excuse to avoid elections,” he said. “Besides, how can they talk about elections when the Palestinian Authority is arresting Hamas members in the West Bank, while Hamas is also arresting members of Abbas’s Fatah faction in the Gaza Strip?
“Hamas is not going to relinquish control of the Gaza Strip for the sake of elections. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, is afraid that Hamas may again win the election, as it did in the January 2006 parliamentary election,” Mansour said.