Postponement of Palestinian Elections Raises Tensions Between Factions
Some parties condemning the delay actually have an interest in canceling the vote, analyst says
[Gaza City] Political unrest continues to mount in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after President Mahmoud Abbas postponed what would have been the first Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections in over 15 years.
Abbas, at a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on Thursday night, said: “A few days ago, they [the Israelis] told us that we are not allowed to hold elections in east Jerusalem.” He then read the text of an Israeli message, saying, “We are sorry, dear neighbors, that we cannot give you an answer regarding Jerusalem; the reason is that we do not have a government to decide. …
“We will not go to the elections without [being able to vote in] Jerusalem,” he said.
A caretaker government has led Israel since its March 23 election.
Annex II to the Oslo II Accord, the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, concluded between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel and signed in Washington in 1995, includes a provision saying, “A number of Palestinians of Jerusalem will vote in the elections through services rendered in post offices in Jerusalem.”
Abbas’ decision to indefinitely postpone the Palestinian Legislative Council vote, which had been set for May 22, and the Palestinian Authority presidential vote, which had been scheduled for July 31, infuriated many factions, especially Hamas, the ruling party in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, which boycotted Thursday’s leadership meeting, said the same day that delaying the vote constituted “turning against the path of partnership and national consensus.”
The statement continued: “Hamas boycotted this meeting because it knew in advance that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority [both of which Abbas heads] were going to disrupt the elections. … Yesterday, we made it clear to the Fatah leadership, in an official call, that we are ready to participate in today’s meeting if it is devoted to discussing ways and mechanisms of imposing elections in Jerusalem against the occupation’s [Israel’s] will.”
Abdelatif al-Qanou, Hamas’ spokesman in Gaza, told The Media Line the postponement “contravenes the Palestinian popular consensus, and therefore masses from Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem took to the streets in rejection of Abbas’ decision to confiscate their rights.
“Hamas, the Palestinian factions, the participating electoral lists, and our Palestinian people in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem have powers and alternatives that will enable us to initiate the electoral process in Jerusalem and recover our rights from the Israeli occupation,” Qanou said.
Other Palestinian factions also rejected Abbas’ move.
Nabil Diab, a leading member of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party led by former PA Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti, told The Media Line that “holding elections is an acquired right that needs to be seized from the Israeli occupation.” He suggested turning the fight over holding elections in Jerusalem into a “popular resistance battle” would be the way to go.
He explained: “Distributing ballot boxes on Election Day in all parts of Jerusalem will show the international community how the Israeli occupation is oppressing Palestinians who are trying to protect their ballot boxes and will reveal the true racist face of the Israeli entity, which was never and will never be democratic at all.”
The My Independent Youth Dignity list, too, called, in a statement released on Saturday, for “setting a clear time limit for the period of postponement in order to hold the elections and ensure that they take place in Jerusalem.”
Analysts say Abbas’ decision, opposed as it is by the majority of the factions, will have devastating effects not only for the Hamas-Fatah relationship but for all the Palestinian political components.
Mohammed Hijazi, a Gaza-based political analyst, believes that as a result of the delay in the vote, several Palestinian parties will lose a historic chance to effect change.
“I think Abbas’ move has created a very tense Palestinian reality at this point. Many of the electoral lists, which were aspiring to become part of the Palestinian political structure, have lost that opportunity, such as the [Freedom] list headed by [the imprisoned former head of Fatah’s Tanzim faction, Marwan] Barghouti, who wanted to make a significant change in the political system, and [self-exiled former Fatah leader in Gaza Mohammed] Dahlan’s [Future] movement, which has a good chance to make it into parliament,” Hijazi told The Media Line.
“Not to forget the major disappointment of the Palestinian public, who are the most eager for elections, as 93% of the population have reportedly registered for the coming electoral round,” he continued.
Some parties have an interest in canceling the Palestinian elections, Hijazi claimed.
“Hamas, for instance, didn’t want elections in the first place, but rather was pushed toward it by Qatari and Turkish pressure. Hamas is clinging to the rule of the Gaza Strip, which provides it a good source of power and finance,” he said.
According to Hijazi, if elections are held, Hamas would face a new Legislative Council and government demanding it hand over control of the Strip, the last thing the Islamist movement wants.
He considers the slew of Hamas condemnations of the postponement, mainly in the media, merely an attempt to embarrass Abbas and to undermine his Fatah movement, the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority.
“Even some Fatah members, including Abbas himself, also don’t want elections, due to [Marwan] Barghouti’s plans to run for president, because Barghouti would get the majority of votes, according to opinion polls,” Hijazi said.