How Israel is trying to derail Palestinian elections

How Israel is trying to derail Palestinian elections
In-depth: With Palestinian legislative elections fast approaching, Israel has ramped up measures to sabotage the vote.
6 min read
14 April, 2021
Israel has launched a widespread arrest campaign as the election draws near. [Getty]
Palestinians are expected to head to the polls to elect a new legislative council on 22 May in a highly anticipated vote, the first in over 15 years.

The last Palestinian legislative election was held in January 2006, resulting in a surprise win for Hamas.

The Islamist party's victory led to tensions with its rival movement Fatah which escalated for months and culminated in Hamas ousting Fatah's security forces from the Gaza Strip, resulting in a division that lasts to this day.

Hamas and Fatah, along with other Palestinian factions, reached an agreement earlier this year to hold elections. Since then, however, Israel has repeatedly detained senior members of Palestinian political factions in the West Bank, especially from Hamas.

Those arrested reported that while detained, Israel threatened them not to take part in the elections. 

In recent weeks, the Israeli army has arrested prominent members from the group in the West bank, including, Mustafa al-Shinar, Adnan Asfour, Yasser Mansour, Khaled al-Hajj, Abdul-Basit al-Hajj, Omar al-Hanbali, and Hasan al-Wardian, among others.

The most recent Hamas member to be arrested by the Israeli army was Najih Assi, who was taken from his home in Ramallah in the early hours of Tuesday. Assi is a candidate on Hamas' list for the legislative elections. 

Impeding Palestinian elections is yet another example of how Israel insists on maintaining indefinite overriding control over Palestinian lives, while simultaneously refusing to bear the minimum of responsibility for them

In multiple statements, Hamas expressed its concern about Israel launching a widespread arrests campaign against its members as the election draws near.

"Hamas sees the Israeli arrest of the candidates for the legislative council elections, especially Hamas' list, as a blatant interference in internal Palestinian affairs, and an attempt to sabotage the Palestinian electoral process and prevent it from taking place," senior Hamas leader Husam Badran, told The New Arab.

Read more: Doubt and division cast a shadow over
Palestinian elections

Hamas "will remain committed to holding the elections regardless of the hardships imposed by the Israeli occupation," Badran added.

"Hamas is currently conducting contacts with regional countries and international parties demanding that they put pressure on Israel to release all detainees and completely stop all forms of interference in the Palestinian electoral process." 

Palestinian elections in East Jerusalem 

Israel is widely expected to prevent Palestinians from holding upcoming elections in East Jerusalem. In recent years, Israel has increasingly cracked down on Palestinian political activity in the city, seeking to impose full Israeli sovereignty over the entirety of Jerusalem.

Israeli officials are well aware that any ban on voting or campaigning in the city would likely prevent elections from happening altogether, as holding elections without East Jerusalem would signify an implicit recognition of Israel's occupation of the city. 

Israel's outgoing military liaison to the Palestinian Authority (PA), General Kamil Abu Rukun, called the elections "a very big mistake," and recommended that Israel should prevent Palestinians from holding the elections in East Jerusalem.

Israel is widely expected to prevent Palestinian elections from taking place in East Jerusalem

The head of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence services, Nadav Argaman, also reportedly visited PA President Mahmoud Abbas earlier this month, and urged him to scrap the upcoming vote if Hamas takes part. Abbas reportedly refused.

Israel has so far prevented any Palestinian campaigning in East Jerusalem in preparation for the election. Israel has also not responded to the PA's official request to set up electoral stations in the city.

Furthermore, on Wednesday last week, the Israeli army arrested members of Fatah who were preparing to hold a consultative meeting in preparation for the elections in the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. 

Israeli police forces set up checkpoints in the vicinity of the hotel to prevent any such activities from taking place in the area. Hotel employees said that Israeli forces also detained the hotel's manager, businessman Sami Abu Dayya. Last week, also on Wednesday, Israel detained Ghada Abu Rabei, a Jerusalemite candidate on Fatah's electoral list for the legislative elections.

Read more: Don't look to Washington for peace in Israel-Palestine

"The Israeli occupation wants to prevent any Palestinian political action in Jerusalem to impose its full sovereignty over the city, as it did over the years through its expansion of settlements, detention of Palestinians and demolition of Palestinian homes, all intended to erase the Arab, Palestinian, and Islamic character of the city," Fatah Central Committee member Rawhi Fattouh told The New Arab.

"Israel's refusal to allow Palestinians to conduct elections in the city is a violation of international law and signed agreements and is aimed at further undermining the two-state solution on the 1967 borders and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital."

Fattouh added: "The international community must denounce the Israeli occupation's practices against Jerusalemites and its attempts at preventing them from participating in the elections." Fattouh reiterated the position of the PA leadership and the consensus of all Palestinians factions that the elections will not take place without Jerusalem. 

"The legislative elections will not be held without the participation of the people of Jerusalem in terms of both running and voting in the elections," he said.

Israel has decided that if allowing Palestinians to choose their own fate raises any risks whatsoever to the status quo, then Palestinians should continue to live disenfranchised and voiceless

The PA now is exerting diplomatic efforts with the EU and the UN to put pressure on Israel to allow elections in East Jerusalem to take place and permit Palestinians in the city to take part in the democratic electoral process.

Israel has so far ignored a formal request, sent by the EU in February, requesting access for an exploratory delegation of observers via Israel to the occupied Palestinian territories. The European delegation was to be sent based on the request of PA officials, who asked the EU for help in preparing and monitoring the scheduled Palestinian elections.

Read more: Is a Barghouti presidency the best hope
for a free Palestine?

The EU election observation team requires access to the Palestinian territories several months before the vote to assess the situation, and the delay has considerably reduced the EU's options to observe the 22 May legislative elections, Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, the EU's representative to the Palestinians, said at a press conference on 30 March.

"Impeding Palestinian elections is yet another example of how Israel insists on maintaining indefinite overriding control over Palestinian lives, while simultaneously refusing to bear the minimum of responsibility for them," political analyst Muhammad Shehada told The New Arab.

"Israel has decided that if allowing Palestinians to choose their own fate raises any risks whatsoever to the status quo, then Palestinians should continue to live disenfranchised, voiceless and without control over who represents them or in what direction," he added.

"The status quo that Israel is keen to maintain is one of Palestinian division, immiseration and despair under its uninterrupted creeping occupation."

Ali Adam is a journalist and researcher whose work focuses on issues linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict