The general Palestinian legislative elections due to take place May 22 has shaken up the still internal Palestinian waters. While different polls are predicting that the Fatah movement is getting slightly more votes than any other party, after 15 years without general elections and 1 million new voters, no poll can be truly trusted to reflect what will come out at the ballot boxes.
While many, including leaders of regional countries and the international community, are worried about the repeat of the 2006 elections, it is important to note that the Palestinian election’s law was changed by presidential decree in September 2007 from a combined national and regional vote to a single national vote based on the proportional system. Had the current law existed in 2006 Hamas would not have been able to monopolize the power that had caused the Gaza-West Bank split.
After years of deadlock, the current elections are a result of a political breakthrough championed by two former cellmates — Jibril Rajoub, who is now the secretary of the Fatah movement, and Saleh Aruri, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau.
The breakthrough was translated in an exchange of messages between Fatah and Hamas in which the latter accepted the insistence of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to hold elections consecutively and not concurrently. The reason for Hamas agreeing to the insistence of President Abbas was due to their own internal decision not to compete for the office of president. They had come to that conclusion due to their understanding that neither regional nor international powers would tolerate that. Having reached that conclusion, it made little difference in whether legislative and presidential elections take place at the same time or at different times.
The Hamas decision was also encouraged by a clear commitment by Fatah and all other PLO factions of the need for national unity, especially at a time that the entire Palestinian liberation struggle was facing an existential question. Fatah and Hamas agreed initially to have a joint list in the upcoming elections with Fatah having a slight edge, including the promise that Fatah’s top candidate will be supported for speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The importance of this is due to the fact that the Palestinian basic law states that in case the president of the Palestinian National Authority dies or is unable to continue, the speaker becomes president for 60 days until new elections take place.
The Rajoub/Aruri agreements were the main impetus that caused the breakthrough by the presidential decrees that have paved the way for legislative elections on May 22, presidential elections on July 30 and the competition of Palestine National Council by Aug. 31.
While the elections are set to take place as designed, the joint list has not fared well especially among the grassroots of the two main factions. In fact, within Fatah, the joint list was sharply criticized by Fatah Central Committee member Nasser al-Qudwa who called it “opportunist” and “self-serving.”
Seeing the joint list evaporating, the effort is now focused on the post-elections coalitions and the shape of the new Palestinian government.
Israeli recent aggression
As the upcoming election nears, Israel has increased its aggression towards Palestinians and Hamas.
Israeli forces arrested 24 Palestinians on Monday morning ahead of May’s Palestinian legislative election, which Israel fears the Hamas movement will win with a landslide majority.
This latest round of arrests targeted several towns in the West Bank, according to a statement by the Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Asra Media Office, and included a former female political prisoner and Hamas members in the West Bank.
In Arraba village, south of Jenin town, Mona Kadan, 46, a former political prisoner who spent six years in Israeli jails, was arrested on Monday morning.
Israeli forces also arrested two leaders of Hamas in Hebron, Anas Rasras and Omar al-Qawasmeh, as well as Sheikh Mustafa Shawar, head of the Palestinian Scholars League.
Monday’s arrests came amid a wave of raids since March, which Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer said has seen 4,400 Palestinians detained by Israel, including 11 former members of the Palestinian parliament.
Israel’s skepticism of the upcoming Palestinian elections has become clear in recent weeks.
The EU’s request to observe upcoming elections in Palestine risks being scuppered by a non-responsive Israel.
“Despite continuous contact with the Israeli authorities, over the past seven weeks, a reply granting access has yet to be received,” said a European Commission spokesperson, in an email on Monday (19 April).
He noted the delay could derail the mission, which aims to oversee Palestinian legislative elections on 22 May.
Those elections were announced by Palestinian president Abbas in January, who then requested the EU send an observer mission. The EU agreed and on 8 February sent a permission request to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But the Israelis authorities have yet to reply.
The EU says it requires “a long lead-time to prepare”, noting for instance that it typically deploys an “exploratory mission” months in advance.
The non-response from the Israelis has since “considerably reduced the EU option to observe the 22 May legislative elections,” said the EU spokesperson.
Furthermore, in early March, news outlets reported that Israel’s internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, had contacted Palestinian members and supporters of the Hamas movement in the West Bank and warned them against running in the upcoming legislative elections, reportedly threatening them with detention.
Some received warnings during the night, when soldiers delivered the message to their doorsteps, while others were asked to report to Shin Bet stations for interrogation.
A number of senior figures in Palestinian politics and civil society have been rounded up, including Fatah’s director in East Jerusalem, Adel Abu Zneid, and parliamentary candidate Ghada Abu Rabi on 6 April.
Attempts to postpone?
Israel appears keen on taking the route of postponing the elections, in order to gain time to establish a plan to tackle its outcomes, or prevent it altogether. The Israeli government has refrained from responding to a Palestinian request to hold legislative elections in East Jerusalem slated for May 22.
The Palestinians have warned against canceling or postponing the entire electoral process in case Israel obstructs holding the polls in Jerusalem.
According to a previous interim deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis, Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem took part in elections conducted in 1996, 2005, and 2006.
The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement was signed in Washington on Sept. 28, 1995, and included a special annex related to the Palestinian elections.
In 1996, 5,367 East Jerusalem Palestinian residents were permitted to vote in five post offices.
In the 2005 and 2006 elections, the number of post offices was increased to six with a capacity of 6,300 voters.
The rest of the Palestinian population voted at poll centers located in the outskirts of the city.
The population of East Jerusalem is estimated at more than 340,000.
The Palestinians seek to implement the same arrangements for the coming legislative elections to be held on May 22 and the presidential elections on July 31.
With the Israeli silence, the Palestinians face three scenarios. Either Israel agrees not to obstruct the elections, or the elections will turn into a Palestinian-Israeli confrontation, or the elections will be postponed or canceled. It is now most likely that they will be postponed.
Washington is, apparently, giving the green light for the Palestinian presidency to postpone the legislative election scheduled for next month; the Biden administration willfully “understand” if this happens. The question now, therefore, is not if the elections will be postponed, but when.
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.
Israel is therefore joined by Abbas and the US in being concerned by a possible Hamas victory or gain in the elections, and it is therefore quite likely that these powers are pressuring its postponement.