Doubts surround efforts towards holding Palestinian general elections
LONDON - Efforts to organise general elections in the Palestinian territories are under way. For the third time in ten days, the Palestinian Authority’s Central Election Committee delegation, headed by Hanna Nasser, arrived in Gaza to meet with other Palestinian political factions, including rival Hamas, to discuss election details.
Nasser’s shuttle visits, aimed at facilitating communication between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other parties in besieged Gaza, have reportedly made progress.
All eight Palestinian political parties agreed the overdue general elections should take place. However, a proposal for a national reconciliation process and clear obstacles to beginning the electoral process received little attention from Fatah. Instead, Abbas sent a memo through Nasser laying out seven points that should be signed by Hamas ahead of the elections.
“The Palestinian factions involved in the elections should declare their commitments to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and honour (the) PLO’s obligations,” Sabri Saidam, a member of the Central Committee of Fatah told the Voice of Palestine radio.
Cautious optimism regarding the election process began to fade after the memo was released. Hamas-ruled Gaza and the West Bank, ruled by Abbas’s Fatah, have accused each other of obstructing the upcoming elections amid fears Israel might hamper the electioneering process in East Jerusalem.
Fatah is also concerned that Hamas could forge an alliance with supporters of dismissed Fatah official Mohammad Dahlan who, in 2016, formed the Fatah Democratic Reformist Current to compete with Abbas.
Husam al-Dajani, a professor of political science at Al-Ummah University in Gaza, said he thinks Hamas is ready for elections because “it wants to embarrass President Abbas because it knows that he and Fatah are not serious.”
“Fatah is divided. Dahlan’s Fatah Democratic Reformist Current enjoys growing popularity, mainly in Gaza,” he said, adding that Abbas has failed to make headway with a peace process with Israel.
Hamas had insisted on both legislative and presidential elections and electing new representatives from all factions into the PLO’s National Council in occupied Jerusalem. However, following discussions, it agreed to have legislative elections first, with the presidential race three months later. A presidential decree would finalise the process, likely setting elections for February 2020.
Still, there is deep mistrust between Fatah and Hamas and there is no guarantee that either party will respect the result of any future elections.
There are many other questions that future votes could raise: Would officials from both sides step aside and concede power? What would happen to resistance groups’ weapons? What would be the fate of the tens of thousands of Hamas employees and recruits? Would the PA/Fatah defend the election results if Israel steps in and hinders the work of elected candidates when moving between Gaza and the West Bank?
Re-establishing legitimacy is essential for Abbas internally and externally. The United Nations announced via its envoy to the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, that it is ready to help guarantee the success of Palestinian elections.
In the 2006 legislative elections, Hamas’s “change and reform” bloc won a majority. Abbas, on the other hand, has been in power since 2005, although his 4-year term should have ended in January 2009. Analysts said this indicates that both sides lack legitimacy but are also sceptical that either party will be able to win a majority.
“Ending the split, unifying institutions, ending the president’s and Fatah’s domination of the PA and the PLO and ending Hamas’s unilateral control of Gaza, are all a natural gateway to free and fair elections after which all parties have to respect its results,” said Hani al-Masri, director-general of Masarat Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies. “Election and unity should be one of the tools of the Palestinian people to win their major battle against the occupation.”