Representatives of several Palestinian factions including Fatah and Hamas, are scheduled to meet in Cairo this week to discuss preparations for holding general elections for the first time since 2006.
On Friday evening, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the elections for the PA presidency, parliament and the PLO’s legislative body, the Palestine National Council (PNC), will be held in three phases.
Abbas’s announcement was made in a decree he issued after meeting in his office in Ramallah with Palestinian Central Elections Commission chairman (CEC) Hanna Nasir.
According to the decree, the parliamentary election for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) will be held on May 22, the presidential election on July 31, and the PNC election on August 31.
The PLC represents only Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while the PNC also represents those living abroad.
Palestinian sources said that the decision to hold new elections was made as the PA leadership prepares to engage the incoming US administration of President-elect Joe Biden and resuming peace talks with Israel.
The planned elections will be the first since 2006, when the PLC poll resulted in a Hamas victory, triggering a bitter and bloody power struggle between the Islamist movement and Abbas’s Fatah faction.
The dispute reached its peak in 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, ending Abbas’s rule over the coastal enclave, home to some two million Palestinians.
Since then, the 132-member PLC has been effectively paralyzed due to the ongoing Fatah-Hamas rift.
In the past few years, Abbas has repeatedly promised to call for new elections, but stopped short of setting a date.
Abbas’s announcement came a week after beginning his 17th year in office. His term was supposed to last four years, but it has been extended because of the inability to reach an agreement on holding new elections. The last presidential election was held on January 9, 2005, when the now 85-year-old Abbas was elected to succeed former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.
It was not clear on Saturday whether Abbas would present his candidacy in the upcoming presidential election.
Hamas and several Palestinian factions and officials have welcomed the elections and expressed hope that they will pave the way for ending the Fatah-Hamas rift.
“The year 2021 will be the year of Palestinian democracy and unity,” said Ahmed Majdalani, member of the PLO Executive Committee. “Our people have paid a heavy price for the division [between the West Bank and Gaza Strip].”
In a statement on Friday, Hamas affirmed its keenness to ensure the success of the elections and said the Palestinians have the absolute right to choose their leadership and representatives.
“We worked over the past months to overcome all obstacles to reach this day, and we demonstrated great flexibility,” Hamas said in a statement, referring to negotiations between its leaders and senior Fatah officials over the past few months in Turkey, Qatar and Egypt.
Hamas officials expressed hope that the elections would be fair and transparent and that residents of east Jerusalem would participate.
Fatah also praised the decision, calling it “an expression of the will of the Palestinian people and the outcome of instructions, dialogue and a responsible and national effort in which the national interest has prevailed over factionalism.”
Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA General Authority of Civil Affairs and member of the Fatah Central Committee, said that Abbas’s decree was an important step “on the path of strengthening democracy and partnership in the political regime, our people’s unity and an end to the division [between the West Bank and Gaza Strip].”
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who said that his government was ready to do everything to facilitate the electoral process, also expressed hope that the elections would end the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Nasir on Saturday called on all Palestinians to participate in the electoral process, promising that his commission would see to it that the vote is conducted in full transparency and integrity.
Nasir said that the voter registration process for the parliamentary and presidential elections will begin on February 10.
He said that east Jerusalem residents who hold Israeli ID cards are automatically registered in the voter registry but he pointed out that there was no guarantee that elections will be held in the city.
Abbas has said that there would be no elections if east Jerusalem is excluded. In the past, Israel allowed east Jerusalem residents to participate in PA elections.
Nasir expressed hope that international pressure on Israel would force it to allow the elections to also take place in east Jerusalem.
Saleh Rafat, head of the Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA), a small Palestinian political party that is part of the PLO, said it was important to ensure that the elections also take place in east Jerusalem. “We call on the international community to exert pressure on the Israeli occupation to enable us to hold the elections in east Jerusalem,” Rafat said.
Nasir said the elections would be held on a proportional representation system and that the commission would adhere to the protocols of the PA Health Ministry regarding COVID-19.