Palestinian legislative elections, scheduled for May 22, will likely be postponed and could even be canceled, according to media reports, however the reason behind it remains unclear.
Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem were prepared to visit the polls next month for the first Palestinian national vote in 15 years, a vote to be followed in July with a presidential election.
But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement are calling to postpone elections if Israel does not permit Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote.
While 36 parties are running in the next election, Hamas – currently in control of the council – and Fatah remain the most powerful parties. Hamas will once again run in the election as a unified conglomerate. Within the Fatah faction, however, there are three distinct streams representing their own list – an internal division that many believe reflects Fatah’s political weakness and will result in a Hamas victory in the election.
While initial reports said the postponement was a “consensus” agreement among the two rival factions, Abbas’ opponents accuse him and his party of calling for the delay as a ploy to cancel the elections altogether. Some speculate that Abbas – facing these internal divisions within his faction – is fearful of political defeat and is using Israel as an excuse.
Khalil al-Hayya, a senior official with Hamas, is opposed to delaying the election beyond next month saying it would “undermine efforts to restore unity.” Al-Hayya is the second most powerful Hamas leader in Gaza after Political Chief Yahya Sinwar.
“A postponement would push the Palestinian people into the unknown, and I warn that this will complicate the situation, perpetuate and reinforce the division,” al-Hayya said in an AFP interview. “This would cause great frustration among the population and young people, and could lead to serious reactions,” he continued in what sounded more like a warning than a statement. “This [postponing the election] could lead some people toward other options such as extremism, violence, and terrorism.”
While Hamas appears unified, Fatah – led by the 84-year-old Abbas – appears divided.
The second Fatah stream is “Democratic Reform Current,” led by Mohammad Dahlan, an Abbas rival who was recently dismissed from the Central Committee and considered a possible contender to replace Abbas.
A third Fatah stream, “National Democratic Forum,” is led by Nasser Al-Kidwa, nephew of the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Al-Kidwa was ousted from the Fatah party last month due to “his stated positions, which violated the internal regime, decisions and unity of Fatah,” Abbas said.
Following his expulsion, Al-Kidwa began his own independent Fatah list. Many believe the political divisions within the Fatah party reflect of an outdated agenda, with 15 years having gone by since the last legislative elections, which Hamas won by a majority.
Earlier this week, the postponement of Palestinian elections was blamed on Israel’s alleged failure to respond to Ramallah’s request to hold elections in East Jerusalem. On Monday, Hamas declared that no election will take place if Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are not able to cast their vote – a pretext already used to defer previous elections.
While the Palestinian Authority (PA) is pressing European countries to talk with Israel about Jerusalem, they have yet to receive any response. The PA also wants the current U.S. administration’s opinion on the issue.
The Palestinian voting conundrum is in stark contrast to recent political turmoil in Israel after a fourth election in under two years. Israel is unlikely to allow elections to be held in Jerusalem.
Israel is also concerned that Hamas could win the upcoming elections, which could trigger a larger security problem in the West Bank, as in Gaza. Although East Jerusalem is Palestinian territory according to the 1993 Oslo Accords, Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.