Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced this evening that he will postpone the first PA elections in 15 years, saying he would not allow the voting to go forward if Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem were not allowed to vote.

Abbas blamed Israel for not allowing its residents of East Jerusalem to vote. According to Abbas, international organizations that were trying to broker a solution said Israel refused to host the PA elections in the city as long as a transitional government was in place in its own country.

Many Palestinians, however, blamed Abbas and his Fatah party for using this as an excuse since he fears he will lose handily to Hamas. And a protest erupted in Ramallah after the announcement, with many calling on the government to find a solution to the Jerusalem problem.

Abbas has been reluctant to allow elections for 15 years now. In January, however, he scheduled legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31 in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But as the time approached, many Palestinians doubted he would follow through with the election.

Getting the vote of Arab residents of East Jerusalem has been Abbas’ rallying cry. However, the reality is complex in Jerusalem. Almost 40% of Jerusalem’s population is Arab and they number some 350,000 people. Unlike Arab Israeli citizens, the vast majority of Arab Jerusalemites are not Israeli citizens, however, because they hold Israeli ID cards, they are counted in Israel’s population statistics.

Arab Jerusalemites who are not Israeli citizens cannot vote in Israeli elections, and the majority do not even vote in Jerusalem’s municipality elections for which they are eligible. Furthermore, many of them are counted as part of official Palestinian Authority population statistics, despite not holding PA-issued passports.

As a result, Arab Jerusalemites currently exist in a legal and political vacuum, neither fully part of Israel, nor part of the PA. While most Arab residents in Jerusalem have either rejected or not bothered to obtain Israeli citizenship, many also oppose PA interference and some even seem to prefer their current ambivalent status quo.

Abbas’ Fatah party risks losing the election due to widespread unpopularity stemming from years of corruption and political misrule. And Hamas, which seeks to supplant Fatah, has been pushing hard for the elections to proceed according to plan.

In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative election with 44.45% of the votes, compared to 41.43% for the ruling Fatah party. In a coup, Hamas – a terrorist organization – eventually expelled Fatah from the Gaza Strip, but the Western-backed Fatah has maintained control over the PA areas in the West Bank.

Presumably Israel also shares Abbas’ fear of a potential Hamas victory if the elections are held according to schedule.

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