Is a national election possible in Palestine in light of Fatah and Hamas rivalry?

Is a national election possible in Palestine in light of Fatah and Hamas rivalry?

Palestinian political factions on all sides welcomed Abbas's call for the overdue elections but ensuring they go ahead is another matter, writes Yousef Alhelou.
6 min read
21 November, 2019
Hamas accepted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's call for elections [NurPhoto/Getty]
Optimistic efforts among Palestinian factions about holding general elections are fading away.

In the past two weeks, three shuttle visits were made into the Hamas-ruled Gaza by the head of the Palestinian Central Elections Committee Hanna Nasser. He is the chosen delegate by President Mahmoud Abbas to hold talks with Hamas and convey the president's conditions.

The positive news emerged last September when 84-year-old Abbas called for general elections in the occupied Palestinian territories, including the holy city of Jerusalem, during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

It seems he assumed that Hamas would reject his call, but instead it was accepted, with conditions that both the legislative and presidential elections should be held at the same time and that Palestinian residents in occupied Jerusalem will be able to vote without any Israeli hindering.

All Palestinian political factions welcomed Abbas's call for the overdue elections. The factions suggested that national reconciliation dialogue should be held first in order to remove all obstacles that might occur on the way, given that a split and division has been going on between the two rivals Fatah and Hamas since 2006.

The president refused the suggestion. The Fatah party justified the rejection stating that holding national talks between the political parties before the presidential decree might create new disagreements which could sabotage the efforts.

Palestinians have been experiencing a constitutional gap and a legitimacy crisis. The president has been in charge of everything

Some voices from within the factions call on Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP and DFLP not to insist on holing national dialogue before the elections, as this may give a pretext to Fatah to call off the elections and blame Hamas for its stubbornness.

"Hamas and other factions should not condition holding the elections with a pre-election comprehensive dialogue, because this might complicate the situation and lead to more limbo," Tholfikar Swairgo, a political analyst told The New Arab. 

Legitimacy crisis 

The last legislative elections were held in January 2006 which brought Hamas to power by a majority. The last presidential elections took place a year before in January 2005 in which Abbas was elected as president of the Palestinian National Authority and the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to succeed late leader Yasser Arafat.

Abbas's four-year term expired in 2009 and in order to fill any constitutional vacuum the Central Council of the PLO voted to extend Abbas's tenure indefinitely.

But then again due to the political deadlock, he dissolved the parliament in December 2018 based on a ruling by the Palestinian Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) as per the recommendation of the president himself.

The very same court under the president's command issued a ruling in 2011 to dismiss Fatah official Mohamamd Dahlan from the party accusing him of financial corruption and conspiring to undermine Abbas.

Since then he has been living in exile in the United Arab Emirates, where he heads a group called "Fatah Democratic Reform Current" (FDRC), which he formed in 2016.

For the last 10 years, Palestinians have been experiencing a constitutional gap and a legitimacy crisis. The president has been in charge of everything.

In order to help him out, international pressure from donor and regional countries has been mounting on the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah party to call for elections and regain legitimacy.

It was agreed now that – if elections go ahead – legislative elections will be held first then to be followed three months later by presidential elections. The details of the elections are yet to be discussed if things go smooth.

Is Israel going to be an obstacle?

Ahmed Majdalani, the Secretary-General of the Popular Struggle Front and member of the Executive Committee of the PLO said that the Israeli occupation will be an obstacle to the Palestinian election. 

"Elections mean strengthening the Palestinian political system, and Israel wants to undermine this system by preventing elections in east Jerusalem," Majdalani stated to the press.

Read more: Israel's moneymaking occupation exposed through Palestinian ban on its livestock 

Till now there is no official Israeli response whether it will or won't allow elections to take place in occupied Jerusalem where about 340,000 Palestinians reside.

Logistically Palestinians in general, including officials and candidates, need Israeli permits to move freely between Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. This point requires international assurances from the Israeli side that it won’t hamper the freedom of movements during election campaigns and during the polls.

Elections mean strengthening the Palestinian political system, and Israel wants to undermine this system by preventing elections in east Jerusalem

Hamas ruled Gaza

The coastal tiny Gaza Strip has been under a crippling land, air and naval siege for the past 13 years and was subjected to three devastating Israeli all-out onslaughts. Border crossings are controlled by Israel and Egypt, where life has become unbearable to its nearly two million inhabitants.

Corruption, poverty and bad governing have led to anger among the vast majority of Gazans. Thousands of PA civil servants and employees had their salaries suspended, adding to the missy of the population. Such measures by the PA aim to put pressure on Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza and initiate a revolt against its rule.

Qatari money has been sent to Gaza to help alleviate the suffering but that fund is often subject to Israel approval.

Fatah ruled West Bank

Over 25 years of peace talks between the PLO/PA and Israel have not led anywhere, nor have they ended the ongoing 52 years of military occupation

The Trump administration severed all financial support to the PA, closed its office in Washington as a punishment to Abbas for rejecting the US's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The biased American position was evident by trying to impose the so-called "Deal of the Century" without consulting the Palestinian leadership. The Palestinians have been let down by some Arab regimes who clearly and publicly normalised their ties with Israel and have even tried to blackmail the PA to accept what is being offered on the table.

Read more: Abbas calls for elections, but will they be held?

Therefore, both sides have reached a deadlock and realise that a united front is needed to face all those challenges and get out of the bottle neck. However both factions have totally different agendas and both have their own political programmes, with their own regional alliances. There is a lack of trust is entrenched between them.

Real intentions are needed for transparent successful elections and for an end to the ongoing division. But until this moment, the situation remains uncertain as to whether these efforts will continue and be successful or collapse and become a real disappointment for the Palestinian people once again.

Yousef Alhelou is a Palestinian journalist and political analyst from Gaza, based in London. He is a United Nations fellow and alumni, and served as a Reuters journalist fellow at the University of Oxford.

Follow him on Twitter: @YousefAlhelou