Despite the issuance of a presidential decree in January to hold legislative and presidential elections, and the setting of dates for them, talk is heating up that elections may be postponed after all.
Al-Quds newspaper, printed in East Jerusalem, reported that a US source believed President Joe Biden would not object to postponing the elections.
The source told the Palestinian paper that the US “views positively the participation of the Palestinians in the political process,” adding, “We are also aware of the special challenges facing the Palestinians, such as the coronavirus pandemic crisis and a stifling economic crisis, in addition to the complexities of the political scene.”
The US official warned that a Hamas win in the elections would jeopardize the prospect of a two-state solution.
Democratic National Assembly steering committee member Nour Odeh told The Media Line that the Palestinian election must be decided by Palestinians and in accordance with Palestinian law.
“The position of other countries, no matter how powerful, must not be a deciding factor in when and how Palestinian democratic life is revived and conducted.”
Odeh said the international community had a responsibility to ensure that elections be held.
“The obligation of all states vis-à-vis Palestine, as an occupied state, is to support Palestine and the inalienable right of its people to participate in political life, to convene elections and to achieve self-determination. That is the accepted and expected role of international actors, including the US.”
Outspoken activist turned candidate Nizar Banat of the Freedom and Dignity list, told The Media Line that it is not in the Americans’ interest that “their allies, and those who are ready to implement their agendas, lose in the elections or become an ineffective bloc.”
Banat, who has been arrested several times by the Palestinian Authority security forces for harshly criticizing President Mahmoud Abbas and other PA officials, claims that “America’s interest is to give superficial legitimacy to Abu Mazen. After [former US President Donald] Trump, Biden wants to legitimize Abbas’ rule.”
Banat argues that due to rampant corruption, nepotism, and lack of a coherent political plan, “Abbas’ loss is a sure thing.”
“America is not concerned and does not want the resistance and the opposition to come out after 15 years and be able to express themselves with a parliamentary majority,” says Banat.
He called on all candidates to have a clear, strong position and come out with a decision that rejects postponing the elections.
A Palestinian official in Ramallah told The Media Line last month that the PA had asked foreign diplomats to intervene with Israel so that it would allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to take part in the elections, as they did in the last Palestinian elections, held in 2006.
The PA, according to the official, is asking for at least a dozen polling stations throughout East Jerusalem.
Around 340,000 Palestinians live in Jerusalem, according to unofficial Palestinian estimates.
Israel, which seized East Jerusalem in 1967 and rejects any sign of Palestinian sovereignty in the city, has yet to clarify its position on whether it will allow the Palestinians to set up polling stations there.
Abbas and several top officials have repeatedly warned that the elections will not be held at all if Israel prevents Palestinians in East Jerusalem from participating.
Banat sees the Jerusalem issue as a thinly veiled justification for avoiding an election that could see Abbas lose power. “The Jerusalem issue is an excuse that will not convince anyone,” Banat says. “They hide behind Jerusalem.”
Odeh also says the Jerusalem issue is a “copout.”
“Israel doesn’t want elections to happen and wants to maintain absolute control. It’s not up to Israel and it shouldn’t be,” says Odeh. “This is basic right of the Palestinian voters and long overdue.”
Last month, EU Representative to the West Bank and Gaza Strip Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff said at a press conference in Ramallah that the European Union sent a formal request on February 8 to the Israeli Foreign Ministry requesting that EU election observers be permitted to travel via Israel to the Palestinian territories.
“Despite continued contact with the Israeli authorities in the past seven weeks, a reply granting access has yet to be received,” Burgsdorff said, adding that lack of a reply from Israel calls into doubt the possibility of EU monitoring of the election. “This delay has reduced the EU option to observe the May 22 legislative elections,” he said.
Burgsdorff said that other options were being discussed internally.
“That’s on them. The presidential decree was issued in January. The EU was well informed, and it should have done its homework, and it should have prepared,” says Odeh, adding that the Palestinian Central Election Committee is “known to be a competent, independent body that is preparing professionally for these elections.”
Hasan Awwad, an expert on Palestinian politics at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, told The Media Line that delaying or canceling the elections would be perilous.
“It’s not in the best interest of Fatah because it’s very risky. People are eager for elections to happen. The current regime, which is heavily corrupted, will face accountability and other consequences, even though an election is much needed now to provide it with legitimacy.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki will embark on a tour to a number of European capitals, urging leaders to pressure Israel to allow Palestinians to conduct elections in Jerusalem.
Amer Hamdan, a candidate from the United National Movement list, said on social media, “The slogan ‘no elections without Jerusalem’ is beautiful, but it remains a slogan.”
Hamdan wonders what the PA should do if Israel refuses to allow the elections to take place: “What would be the alternative? Should we acquiesce?”
He says that in the event elections are not allowed in the city, it provides an opportunity for the PA to “politically clash” with Israel.
“Jerusalem is an arena for clashes with the occupier in front of the world.”
But Abbas’ ruling Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, is deeply divided and has fielded three separate lists for the upcoming parliamentary elections, sparking fear of a repeat of the 2006 performance when it lost to its rival, Hamas.
“Fatah is afraid of a 2006 scenario because most of the new voters have been experiencing and witnessing the PA’s corruption and it affects their lives directly, where there is no equality or justice for those who are outside of the elite group. Fatah is afraid of another revenge.”
Ziad Abu Zayyad, a former Palestinian official, wrote in his weekly column in Al-Quds newspaper that despite “the high frequency of talk about postponing the elections and the inclusion of the American position in the debate by saying that Washington does not object to the postponement,” there is still no official Palestinian decision on the matter.
Abu Zayyad urges Abbas not to walk back his decree.
“I wish [Abbas] not to retreat … and to issue a decision that closes the door to all rumors, confirming that the electoral process is continuing and that the elections will be held on time, without any doubt.”
Several Fatah prisoners sent a letter to Abbas, asking for a delay to the elections because of the deep schism within the group.
Once the largest and most popular Palestinian faction, the 53-year-old movement now is facing its toughest crisis in recent years. The group is plagued with internal chaos and turmoil resulting in a record 15 Fatah-affiliated lists registering for the legislative election.
Abbas, 86, is facing the biggest fight of his political career, and the threat to his rule emanates from the party that he heads.
Following his decision to lead an independent list, Abbas expelled senior Fatah party official Dr. Nasser al-Qudwa. The Al-Huriyya list headed by Qudwa is supported by Marwan Barghouti, an influential Fatah leader who is serving five life sentences plus 40 years in an Israeli prison, after being convicted of being responsible for multiple killings during the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising. Barghouti is considering a run against Abbas in the presidential election in July.
For many, Barghouti, 61, poses the most serious threat to Abbas’ rule.
Qudwa isn’t the first high-profile official that Abbas has expelled from the Fatah movement.
Another rival for Palestinian leadership, Mohammed Dahlan, now living in exile in Abu Dhabi, was dismissed from the group in 2011.
A recently published public opinion poll from the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed that a majority of Palestinians prefer Barghouti over Abbas, Dahlan and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. When asked who they would like to see as the next president, 22% of respondents chose Barghouti, 14% Haniyeh, 9% Abbas and 3% Dahlan.