GAZA CITY: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly last week that he plans to set a date for the first general election in 13 years in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. Is it possible to hold such an election, and is the best option to turn the page and start a new chapter after the internal split between Fatah and Hamas, which has caused more than a decade of division and fragmentation?
Observers believe that Fatah leader Abbas is serious this time in his intent to call the election, after the failure of repeated attempts to reconcile and heal the divisions among Palestinians. The road will not be easy, however, with the possibility that Hamas will block any voting in Gaza, and Israel might do the same in Jerusalem.
Responding quickly to the pledge by Abbas, Hamas announced its readiness to contest an election, but added that it must be inclusive and take place as part of presidential, legislative and Palestine Liberation Organization National Council elections.
Ra’afat Morra, the head of Hamas’ foreign media department, said that the announcement by Abbas was “vague and unclear,” and added: “We cannot deal with elections and national issues in a piecemeal way. We need a comprehensive Palestinian vision that addresses the issues of Palestinians at home and abroad. This requires a comprehensive dialogue, leading to inclusive elections at all levels and a national consensus.”
He said that Hamas, which controls Gaza, would not accept an election for only the Palestinian Legislative Council; any vote would have to include the Legislative Council, the presidency and the National Council.
Hamas won a majority in the last election for the Legislative Council, in early 2006. The constitutional term covered by that election ended on January 2010, while Abbas’ presidential term ended in 2009. In the absence of any subsequent elections, they remained in place. The Constitutional Court, which was formed by Abbas in 2016 without a national consensus, issued a ruling last year ordering that the Legislative Council be dissolved.
The focus on legislative elections only during Abbas’ announcement, Morra said, was “a systematic sabotage and disruption of any Palestinian understanding that achieves the supreme national interest.”
Fatah views the call by the president for a general elections as timely and appropriate after exhausting all attempts to end the split with Hamas, according to Revolutionary Council spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmi. He added that the move will not be subject to the consent of any party, because elections are a political and constitutional right of Palestinians.
Abbas did not specify whether his call includes a presidential election, but Al-Qawasmi said it would be limited to “legislative elections leading to the formation of a new government, which would restore the political system and fill the vacuum left by the absence of the Legislative Council.”
Abbas’ announcement of his election plans was widely welcomed by Palestinian groups, including the eight factions that last week launched a reconciliation initiative that is officially approved by Hamas.
“The call for elections must be accompanied by national consensus within the parameters set by the factions, namely the holding of general and comprehensive elections in all parts of the political system, including the Legislative Council, the Presidency and the PLO, based on the lists electoral system,” said Talal Abu Zarifa, a member of the Political Bureau of the Democratic Front, one of the eight factions.
But Al-Qawasmi said that Fatah did not find anything new or different in the factions’ initiative from what had been committed by Fatah in previous agreements.
Political writer Hani Habib said that Abbas appears to be serious this time in his desire to call an election — even if he is forced to hold it in the West Bank and Jerusalem only, if Hamas objects to it in Gaza — and might have already received regional and international support for this approach.
But Khaldoun Barghouti, an expert in Israeli affairs, said that Israel is likely to prevent the Palestinian Authority from holding elections in Jerusalem because it wants to maintain the status quo in the city after US President Donald Trump recognized full Israeli sovereignty over it as the capital of Israel.