Ismail Haniyeh, who heads Hamas’s political bureau (right), is shown in his Gaza office on November 26 presenting Hanna Nasser, chairman of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, the Islamist party’s declaration of intent to participate in Palestinian Authority elections. (Haniyeh Press Office - handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Hamas Agrees to Take Part in PA Elections

Spokesman for group tells The Media Line that certain issues still require discussion

Hamas, the ruling party in the Gaza Strip, submitted a letter on Wednesday to the Palestinian Central Election Commission saying it will take part in proposed legislative and presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority (PA) although there are still “several points” to be discussed.

Earlier this month, PA President Mahmoud Abbas demanded that Hamas give its final decision on the matter in a written and signed document, saying the Islamist organization is prone to changing its mind.

Hazem Qassem, a spokesperson for Hamas, told The Media Line that the group was interested in the success of the elections but elaborated on the possible sticking points.

“We attached to the approval several points to be discussed with President Mahmoud Abbas in order to assure a secure and stable environment for the electoral process,” he said. “Among these were points addressing electoral mechanisms, schedules, laws and courts, and the safeguarding of freedoms.”

Qassem said he expected that Israel would impose obstacles, such as “voter suppression and even the prevention of elections altogether in Jerusalem.”

Writer and analyst Iyad Alqarra told The Media Line that Hamas has shown a surprising degree of flexibility in the election talks, saying it wants to change the perception that it is always uncooperative.

“Hamas sees it necessary to find a way to end [internal] divisions – in this case, through Palestinian elections,” he said.

Alqarra said that despite a widespread view that Hamas was risking its political future, with many in Gaza believing it had made numerous non-democratic moves in the coastal enclave, the organization was wagering on a greater presence in the West Bank, something Israel does not want.

“There will be many obstacles blocking Hamas’s participation in the elections,” he said. “Israel will [try to] not let it happen because it knows that a Hamas political and social presence in the West Bank would inevitably lead to a military presence, which is Israel’s red line.”

Analyst and political researcher Mansour Abu Kareem told The Media Line he believed there was very little chance of elections even taking place, with both of the major parties, Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah, uninterested or even afraid, each for its own reason.

“The PA is currently facing a serious plight regarding the American position [on numerous issues, most notably Jerusalem and the international legality of Israeli settlements] and the blocked peace process,” he said. “Hamas faces economic and social collapse, especially given that the poverty rate in the Gaza Strip exceeds 75%. Both parties are using the election card to… divert people’s attention from those issues.”

Kareem added that going to elections amid the current divisions between the two sides would deepen an already profound and contentious divide. The formation of a government or legislative council would be impossible without a political consensus among all participating constituencies, and there will be fierce competition, with each trying to benefit from the other’s weaknesses.

“Hamas would try to profit from Fatah’s internal splits, from the public’s negative reaction toward PA procedures against the enclave of Gaza [and its] dissatisfaction with the PA’s overall performance. Fatah will try to use the economic and social deterioration of Gaza to gain public support,” he elaborated.

“Obviously, this will bring up new forms of division,” he concluded.

(Sanaa Alswerky is a student journalist in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies Program)

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