Palestinian circles have deemed that President Mahmoud Abbas's recent visit to Qatar may lead to the reproduction of the idea of forming a unified list in the upcoming Palestinian elections, despite the fact that the idea does not have a common political basis, and does not allow other lists to compete. It also aims to keep the Palestinian situation stagnant, preventing change through elections, and recreating quotas between Fatah and Hamas.
This article discusses this option – what it is, who is calling for it, the position of Hamas, Fatah and the factions, and whether it has a national consensus, or whether it reproduces the division by creating quotas between them, without the rest of the Palestinian factions.
Hamas has declared its willingness to run in the elections while respecting the results, on the condition that they meet the conditions of integrity and fairness. It reiterated its willingness to adhere to the ballot boxes, without any fear of hesitations of engaging in any comprehensive elections, considering that these elections, regardless of whether the movement engages in them individually or under a joint list, will be a means to correct the strategic courses of the history of the Palestinian people.
Therefore, we have recently witnessed the issuance of several statements by Fatah and Hamas, that talk about their openness to the idea of a "joint list" in the next legislative elections, without specifying what the list or its political platform would be, thus overcoming the obstacles hindering its announcements.
While Abbas proposed to the Hamas leadership the idea of going into the legislative elections in a united list with Fatah and other factions, or with Fatah alone without the other factions, this raised doubts about its success, and even its credibility.
Some Palestinians believe that the purpose of announcing a joint Palestinian list is to dilute the political positions between Fatah and Hamas, escaping the entitlements of reconciliation, and evading repeated calls for Abbas to hold a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leadership. This means that the purpose of the list is not necessary in resolving the national Palestinian crisis, by establishing a united front and achieving reconciliation, but that its top goal is to politically contain Hamas.
Also, entering the elections with a single Palestinian list, led by the Fatah and Hamas, which will later include other factions and independents that wish to join, leaves 20-30 per cent of the seats to the lists that wish to run in the elections separately. While the formation of a unified list has been proposed since 2012, and was proposed again by Qatar's Emir in 2016, Abbas welcomed Hamas, while Hamas remained cool. Hamas is now announcing that it has not rejected the idea, but that it needs to agree on a political platform and other requirements.
This idea was again proposed on the sidelines of the visits made by Hanna Nasser, president of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission to the Gaza Strip, and in phone calls between Hamas and Fatah leaderships. Perhaps the source of the concern is the fact that the joint list is aimed at creating quotas, maintaining control, and reproducing the current reality, without making dramatic changes. This means the division will remain after the elections, and each side will keep what it already has under a united cover, or even without one. It is natural for the agreement regarding the legislative elections joint list to be accompanied by an agreement on a candidate for the presidential elections.
There are a number of negative aspects in choosing a joint list, the most important of which is that it will act as a recommendation list, and therefore we will not witness true competition in the elections with a large variety of voters, who will not have a variety of candidates to choose from. There is a possibility, however, that independents, those angry with Fatah and Hamas, and the factions that will not participate in a joint list, will form their own lists, and we could then potentially have results that completely change the existing formula.
Fatah's increasing statements regarding the joint list may reinforce Hamas's convictions of the legislative elections date approaching, the exact date of which Abbas may announce by a presidential decree that has not yet been issued. This calls for us to look into Hamas's options, regarding the nature of its expected participation in the elections. These options include running in the elections independently, through closed organisational party lists, opening the door to making political alliances with other forces, or adding independents and technocrats to its electoral lists.
The Palestinians believe that the system followed in the upcoming elections, its mechanisms and its timing, must be subject to national consensus, because it forms the basis of the electoral process, and the greatest guarantee for the elections to be free and fair. As for the form of Hamas's participation in legislative elections, either independent or as part of a coalition, it will be discussed at the time, including whether its leaders will participate in the electoral lists. It does seem that the movement will be participating in the elections strongly and positively, with each election – legislative and presidential – having its own form of participation.
We are still at the beginning of preparing for the Palestinian legislative elections, and we have before us a series of constitutional steps, the most important of which is the issuance of a presidential decree determining the exact dates, agreement on the electoral system, overseeing the counting of results, and the mechanism for recognising the results and not repeating the coup against them, after Fatah refused to recognise the victory of Hamas in the 2006 elections. However, all of this does not mean that Hamas will not begin laying the necessary foundations for this important event, either by conducting a survey of its most important future candidates, researching the possibility of entering into partisan coalitions, or by supporting candidates from outside it.
In 2006, Hamas included individuals who were not members of the movement in its electoral list, such as Ziad Abu Amr, the current Palestinian deputy prime minister in Ramallah, who turned against the movement and joined Abbas and Hossam Al-Tawil, the late Christian candidate that Hamas supported in the previous legislative elections in 2006, in the Gaza Strip. This was also in addition to Hassan Khreisheh, the second deputy head of the Legislative Council from the West Bank.
Perhaps these precedents make the movement more likely to nominate independents either in its organisational lists, if they agree to this, or to give them the votes of its constituents if they remain in separate lists, after agreeing between them on public policies that govern their relationship after the legislative elections, with Hamas fearing that they will turn against them after winning the elections.
Hamas's balanced political circles are leaning towards not repeating the previous models, regarding the party organisational electoral lists, as the movement has gained experience from the model of the Supreme National Authority of the Return Marches and Lifting the Siege. This is because it reflects an inclusive national consensus, a model that can be repeated in legislative elections.
Hamas's parliamentary and governmental experience imposed on it a major change between its leaders and bases, which requires it in the future to conduct lengthy dialogues with all factions, and not allowing any of them to shirk their responsibilities after the upcoming legislative elections. This comes despite the fact that Hamas has not decided on its final choice, regarding the form of electoral participation, as it is waiting to see the results of its dialogue with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and factions, to learn the details of the electoral process.
In the West Bank, the situation of Hamas is further complicated by the security harassment of Israel and the PA, which may make many independents fear running on its electoral lists. They may prefer to run as independents only, provided that they have the support of the votes of Hamas members.
It is worth noting that in each electoral cycle, Hamas presents unified lists and new faces that enhance its chances of winning, while Fatah presents separate electoral lists and repeated faces, despite the fact that opinion polls indicate that Hamas is declining in Gaza, because its government performance is not adequately successful. This affects its electoral position, and Hamas knows well that its government experience in the Gaza Strip after gaining control of it in mid-2007, was not exemplary. Its experience was riddled with shortcomings and failures, either due to its new experience in governance, or because of the siege imposed by Israel, the PA and regional countries.
Palestinians assert that one of the motives for presenting the idea of the joint list in the upcoming Palestinian elections, is Fatah's growing feeling that it is not guaranteed to run united in the upcoming elections and that it will not necessarily win. Meanwhile, Hamas feels that it is required to lose the elections, because it will not be able to rule if it wins, so it is favourable for Hamas to keep the situation as it is, because it has the majority of the Legislative Council seats and it is not guaranteed to repeat that.
Therefore, the previous political experience of Hamas will cast a shadow over the results of Hamas in the upcoming legislative elections, which makes it more cautious in forming its electoral lists. It is decreasing the number of candidates from the past, whose names are associated with the past experience, and is instead presenting some of the many new faces it has which are supported by the Palestinians.
Finally, Hamas and Fatah may remain secretive with regards to their electoral movements for the time being, so as not to show their cards to others. Meanwhile, their members are mobilised in preparation for a sudden decision that may be issued by Abbas to soon determine a date for the elections. They have not denied that part of their preparations, for the legislative elections is looking for electoral alliances from outside of their ranks with academics, technocrats and businessmen, and to involve various members of Palestinian society, such as citizens, refugees and farmers. They will also be steering clear of a closed partisan list, after learning from their past electoral experience.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.