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Is there a way out of the Palestinian election impasse?

May 6, 2021 at 10:39 am

A Palestinian man looks for his name on the electoral roll in Gaza City on March 3, 2021, ahead of the Palestinian elections [MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images]

It is evident that no one bought the official Palestinian narrative about postponing the legislative election scheduled for later this month, with the exception of the Fatah nucleus close to the leadership and affiliated therewith. There are currents in Fatah which are angry and are rebelling against the decision; they did not accept the “reason”, but rejected and refuted it. All the balanced factions opposed the postponement, as well of most, if not all, civil society institutions.

There is no doubt that the Palestinian people were hugely disappointed by the decision. The degree of their disappointment is almost unparalleled, matched only by the extreme enthusiasm for participating in the election process. A massive 93.3 per cent of those eligible registered with the voters’ lists, and they had 36 lists containing hundreds of candidates to choose from.

The EU and its members Germany, France, Italy and Spain were angered by the decision to postpone, and they demanded that the Palestinian Authority should set a new date. They also insisted that Israel should allow voters in all of the Palestinian territories to participate, including those in Jerusalem. The UN did the same.

The US, which has shown little interest in the election issue, preferred to leave it up to the Palestinian people and their leadership to do what is necessary. It was a “negative” position reflecting indifference to the Palestinians, which confirms what was expected: the Biden administration does not want to invest time and effort on the Palestinian file.

READ: Abbas has climbed down on holding the Palestinian elections, as usual 

What matters to the neighbouring Arab countries is that the legislative and other elections do not come up with surprise results, especially another Hamas victory, as happened in 2006. That would be a “bad omen” for countries that do not hold fully democratic elections and know the results of their votes before the polling stations open.

Members of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission register voters in the West Bank town of Hebron on February 10, 2021 [HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images]

Members of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission register voters in the West Bank town of Hebron on February 10, 2021 [HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images]

The PA narrative on this matter will find listening ears in the Arab capitals, not because they are concerned about Jerusalem, but because the elections themselves are not something that they welcome. This is especially so if they are free and fair. The Palestinian leadership, therefore, has some room to manoeuvre as it wavers between agreeing to set a new date for all of the elections — legislative, presidential and National Council — or sitting back and taking pride in its sinful decision.

Europe is the biggest donor to the PA and so its position is important. However, Washington and regional capitals could twist Europe’s arm, especially with the spectre of Hamas emerging victorious from the ballot box. I believe that such a result is unlikely, though, and that the Palestinian national movement and its various lists will win the majority of the seats in the Legislative Council if and when the election goes ahead.

There is a narrow window of hope that the leadership will climb down and remedy the situation by setting a new date for the legislative election while putting public pressure on Israel, especially in Jerusalem, as well as lobbying at an international level. The PA must also be creative when it comes to ensuring the participation of the people of Jerusalem in all of the elections. In the meantime, it must use the time to gather the pieces of Fatah together and try to unify its candidate lists, or at least get some coordination between them, to run in the legislative election.

The problem with a scenario like this is that it will clash with the obstacle of the presidential election. President Mahmoud Abbas is 86 years old but insists on standing for another term in office. He rejects the idea of having a vice president chosen by him, let alone someone who is elected.

His passion for the presidency and Fatah’s attachment to power have hindered the holding of elections for many years. When the moment of truth finally arrived, and it seemed that the presidency and Fatah’s domination had reached the point of no return, they backed down from what they had promised the people of Palestine. The decision to postpone — cancel? — all three elections was announced under a heavy smokescreen stamped with the Jerusalem seal and disregarded the serious national costs of keeping the same old same old team in place.

READ: What has the PA done to halt Israeli apartheid? 

This article first appeared in Addustour on 3 May 2021

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