After election pledge from Abbas, what next for Palestine?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves to his supporters in Ramallah, in the West Bank. (Reuters/File)
Updated 02 October 2019

After election pledge from Abbas, what next for Palestine?

  • The president’s call for polls is being seen as ‘timely’ after he exhausted all attempts to end split with Hamas

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.”

FASTFACT

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.

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.


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”