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Will Abbas postpone the elections to appease Israel and its allies?

April 20, 2021 at 2:50 pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on 6 October 2019 [ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images]

According to a source in Washington, “[T]he Biden administration will look with understanding at the possibility of postponing the [Palestinian] elections for some time. Washington would not object to a Palestinian Authority decision to postpone the legislative elections set for next month.” This was quoted in Al-Quds newspaper on Friday.

Another noteworthy part of the same statement, as quoted by Al-Quds, is the source’s warning that “The rise of Palestinian forces that reject the two-state solution, reject abandoning violence, and refuse to stop the anti-Israel and US rhetoric, or abandon incitement — the rise of such forces to the decision-making position will complicate, or even completely dispel, prospects for the two-state solution.”

The source noted that, as such, it is natural for the Palestinian political forces to reiterate their commitment to agreements such as the Oslo Accords. Palestinian forces “that reject the two-state solution” were confirmed as a clear reference to Hamas.

Oslo Accords, the 25th Anniversary - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Oslo Accords, the 25th Anniversary – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

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. Mahmoud Abbas, remember, only issued the election decree under pressure from the EU and US to hold elections. It was said that humanitarian aid would be linked to holding the legislative, national council, and presidential elections as soon as possible.

If Abbas is freed from this pressure, then the way is open for him to issue another decree postponing the elections for any of the reasons laid out for him by the American source: Washington is aware of the “various challenges faced by the Palestinians, including the coronavirus pandemic, economic problems and the duality of rule between the West Bank, dominated by the PA, and the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas.” The anonymous source also mentioned the different priorities due to the nature of the unique challenges each government faces, which have accumulated over the past 15 years, in addition to the fact that the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are subject to the complexities of Israeli domination, which restricts political activity.

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The Americans are basically giving the PA president election postponement justifications on a plate. We are entitled to ask if this was simply a matter of two minds thinking alike, or if there has been some collusion and an agreement in advance that this was going to happen. It seems to me that the source’s statement was no coincidence, but was a matter that was agreed upon between the PA leadership and the US administration before issuing a decree to postpone the elections; possibly even before the original election decree was issued. In doing so, they have set the political stage internationally and regionally for the postponement or cancellation of the Palestinian elections.

It is surprising that the US source confirmed that he had not heard of any Palestinian request to pressure Israel to allow the elections to go ahead in Jerusalem, despite the fact that the Palestinian leadership has claimed almost non-stop that it is communicating with all international parties to apply such pressure on the occupation state. If the PA did not communicate with the Biden administration — which is arguably the only party capable of applying pressure with any likelihood of success — then who did the Palestinian leadership contact in this regard? Or were the leadership’s claims merely an attempt to throw dust in our eyes?

It now looks as if regional and international parties are willing to postpone the much-needed elections for one reason, and one reason only: Hamas is likely to win again, which is something that the current leadership, the Israelis, and the Americans want to avoid. In postponing the elections, they would be following their own wishes, not the wishes of the Palestinian people, who are overwhelmingly in favour of using the ballot box to escape from the political crisis that has been the status quo in Palestine for the past 15 years.

PA and Hamas to establish 'national unity government' - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

PA and Hamas to establish ‘national unity government’ – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

This has created a situation whereby President Mahmoud Abbas rules absolutely. In turn, this has led to the complete decline of a number of Palestinian national issues. The whole political structure needs to be reconstructed through the elections granting legitimacy to the leadership, which has been missing for more than a decade. That this is necessary has been agreed upon by the Palestinian people and the factions.

Will Abbas side with the Palestinian people or will he surrender to the wishes of regional and international parties? Based on experience, I believe that he will go with the latter and ignore the wishes of the people, who must prepare themselves for a decision in the next few days that will be anything but in favour of Palestinian interests, and everything to do with appeasing Israel and its allies.

This article first appeared in Arabic in the Palestinian Information Centre on 18 April 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.