President Mahmoud Abbas's decree setting the dates for Palestinian elections, which haven't taken place for years, is without doubt an important step towards ending the political division. Nevertheless, proposing to hold the legislative, presidential and Palestinian National Council elections is not enough on its own; other important steps are required to overcome the damaging split.
Hamas welcomed the decree, having agreed beforehand to the elections being held successively, and abandoning its insistence that they be simultaneous. This was the movement's clear expression of flexibility in an effort to end the division.
I believe that Hamas has received guarantees from Arab, regional and perhaps international states, following which it has agreed to hold the elections as Abbas has proposed.
This optimistic atmosphere is good, but it is not enough. There is fear of a setback of some kind. The results of the legislative election, for example, may indicate voters' preferences that the losing parties will not accept and they could disrupt or otherwise block the subsequent polls. The fear is real.
Hence, there is an urgent need for real national dialogue aimed at ensuring the success of the elections, and the arrangement of the internal situation according to the balance of power on the ground. Such dialogue must also lead to reshaping the Palestinian political system.
So far, the pressures likely to be placed upon the Palestinians remain unclear. There is an imminent transfer of power in Washington, to be followed by yet another Israeli General Election in March. As for the situation in the Arab world, the confusion is obvious.
These factors will help the Palestinians to work with as little external pressure as possible. The most important thing, though, is for the internal factors and thorny disputes to be adapted in a way that helps to end the division and put the Palestinian house in order.
There is great potential for both Fatah and Hamas, as they are both in crisis. Holding elections does not mean the end of the division, but it is the beginning of the hard work needed to resolve the contentious issues between the two parties.
There is now a great opportunity to formulate a new Palestinian political system, one that accepts both negotiation and resistance together in a new formula. The opportunity is there; it is unprecedented; and it could be the final option for everyone. It must be taken.
Translated from Thenewkhalij, 17 January 2021, and edited for MEMO.
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