Palestine Elections Planned, Could Elections Bring Much Needed National Unity?
Palestinian political factions, including the rival major parties Fatah and Hamas, are tentatively calling for general Palestine elections for both the parliament and presidency.
In a letter sent by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to all leftist and rightist factions in the occupied Palestinian territories, Abbas instructed the Palestine elections committee, formally called the Central Elections Commission, to prepare for upcoming elections.
During the past couple of weeks meetings involving Gaza-based political factions, including the ruling Islamist Hamas party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian People’s Party and others have been held in Gaza, the latest of which took place over the November 10 weekend.
Is There a Consensus to Hold Palestine Elections?
In the early meetings held by Palestine elections committee chief Hanna Naser with the leadership the involved factions, Hamas conditioned that any Palestine elections should be held only after Palestinian parties have a consensus over highly important matters, mainly reconciling a 12-year-long political split.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party objected to Hamas’ stance, saying that elections are the only way out of the current political impasse.
Senior Fatah leader and a top negotiator with Hamas over the past several years, Azzam al-Ahmad reportedly responded by saying that Hamas should submit a signed letter stating its recent stance clearly. Earlier, he urged Hamas to adhere to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s platform, if it wanted things to advance.
As of this weekend’s meetings Gaza-based senior Fatah leader Fayez Abu Aita consented to the latest Hamas position, which stipulated that Hamas and the other factions agree to unconditional, fair and transparent elections to be held in a timely manner in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“For the sake of our homeland, we would accept holding elections, provided that these elections should be held in a transparent and fair way in all the occupied Palestinian territories. For this purpose, we call for unleashing freedoms and ensuring unhindered participation of all our people,” Hamas political leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised press conference held in Gaza on Sunday, shortly after a meeting with all factions.
The Sunday, November 10 meeting has proved to be a difference-maker in Hamas’ stance toward holding Palestine elections.
“The difference between this latest meeting and other previous ones lies in Hamas’ acceptance of holding the elections even without a national consensus. Hamas does not object to holding elections for the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Council, of which Hamas is not a member, after the parliamentary and presidential elections are held in a timely manner and democratically. Yet, Hamas insists that results of elections should be respected by all parties concerned and that Hamas is not worried about holding them,” Talal Abu Thareefa, a senior political leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine who attended recent factional meetings, told Citizen Truth.
Challenges to Palestinian Elections
However, holding Palestinian elections in the occupied Palestinian territories could face a number of difficulties, including possible Israeli restrictions on holding them in the occupied East Jerusalem.
Top Palestinian negotiator with Israel and member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Saeb Erikat reportedly called on Britain to exert pressure on Israel so that the latter would make sure any Palestine elections run smoothly in occupied East Jerusalem.
Last year, President Donald Trump of the United States declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting Israel to tighten its control over the city, hence, Israel could put up obstacles to prevent any Palestine elections from being held in the Arab part of the city.
Over the past 12 years, the rivals Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads with each blaming the other for a failure of national unity. Both parties have signed a series of unity deals, the latest of which was signed in Cairo in October 2017. The deals, however, have never proved fruitful.
Many observers see the latest bid for Palestine elections as a possible way to reunite the Palestinian political spectrum, especially since each party has its own political agenda. Hamas honors armed resistance and does not recognize Israel, while Fatah has long committed to a peace process with Israel.
Following the 2006 parliamentary elections that brought Hamas to power, key international players, including the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, along with Israel, shunned Hamas. They attempted to force Hamas to accept three demands before it could win international recognition: accepting past-signed agreements with Israel, recognizing Israel and renouncing violence.
When Hamas took over Gaza and ousted the Fatah party from the coastal region, Abbas outlawed Hamas, while Israel declared Gaza a hostile entity.
Last week, Hamas leader Yahya Alsinwar warned Israel against carrying out any military actions against Gaza, saying that his party is ready to shower Israel with rockets for a period of six months. He also asserted that his party would continue the struggle against the Israeli occupation.
Could Palestine Elections Bring New Political Leadership?
Commenting for Citizen Truth, Dr. Ibrahim Abrash, a leading Gaza political analyst and prominent academic, cast doubt on the potential success of any Palestine election.
“Actually, I do not think that both Hamas and Fatah are serious about elections. The platforms of both parties have many shortcomings when it come to the Palestinian people’s aspirations, mainly getting rid of the Israeli occupation. I do not think that the international community would accept same election results of 2006, therefore, both Hamas and Fatah needs to reach certain compromise,” Dr. Abrash believed.
Asked whether Fatah and Hamas could make some sort of concessions, Abrash said, “The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah should pay attention to the greater interests of the Palestinian people and not deal with Gaza’s two million residents as if it were dealing only with Hamas. Meanwhile, Hamas should come out with a clear-cut political vision that the international community could accept and respect.”
Abrash also believes that new Palestinian independent leaders, apart from either Hamas or Fatah, should emerge.
“The Palestinian political spectrum should involve new influential political leaders who can be powerful enough to change the whole Palestinian situation. Unfortunately, the Palestinian community in both Gaza and the West Bank are hostage to the major Fatah and Hamas parties. I do not think that either Hamas or Fatah will have majority seats in any upcoming new Palestinian parliament, once elections are completed,” the Gaza-based prominent political analyst suggested.
Palestine’s Struggle to Achieve Unity
Over the past couple of years, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has implemented a series of measures for Gaza, including cutting off salaries of Gaza employees who are on its payroll and refraining from paying for fuel that runs the sole Gaza power plant.
The measures are meant to punish Hamas for the latter’s refusal to hand over full responsibilities, including security, for Gaza to a consensus Palestinian government formed by President Abbas following the Gaza al Shati refugee camp-based unity deal of April 2014 and the subsequent Cairo deal in 2017.
About two months after the 2014 deal, Israel carried out a major military attack on the coastal region, leaving many key points of Gaza’s infrastructure either completely or partially destroyed and making the realization of Palestinian unity difficult.
Asked by Citizen Truth, whether Israel could cripple current efforts to hold elections in Palestine and resolve internal disputes, Dr. Abrash maintained: “I do believe that the Palestinian political split is the most ideal situation for Israel. I do not think that Israel would be happy with any Palestinian unity. This time, Israel might further ease its 12-year-old blockade of Gaza and avoid any military actions, against the Hamas-ruled territory, especially if Palestinian rivals reach one more deadlock during current efforts for elections or reconciliation.”