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The high cost of delaying Palestinian elections

Whether to postpone the Palestinian elections will be decided on April 29. What are the scenarios and possible repercussions of such a decision on the Palestinian scene?
The high cost of delaying Palestinian elections

The status of the Palestinian legislative elections and possibly the political fate of the current Palestinian leadership will be in the balance on the night of April 29, as heads of Palestinian factions are due to meet to decide whether to delay the May 22 elections or not. The official start of the election campaigning is due to begin April 30.

Palestinian sources told Al-Monitor that a yet to be announced internal decision has already been taken by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement to delay, yet what is needed is the blessing of the factions. With the exception of the official Fatah list, almost all other factions have publicly declared that they are opposed to any delays. Signed petitions, public statements and possibly a protest is expected to take place at the same time that the heads of the main Palestinian factions meet, most likely after the end of the Ramadan fast at sunset on Thursday.

Palestinian list leaders who are not all invited insist that since they signed up for elections based on the presidential decrees, deposited $20,000 each and all their candidates resigned from their positions, as per the election law, they should be present. But the only invitees are the heads of Palestinian factions (many on the payroll of the Palestinian presidency) as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The latter, which refuses to recognize the Oslo process and has vowed not to participate in the elections, has said they will not attend. The last time that secretary-generals of the Palestinian factions met was to usher the very process of reconciliation that led to the election process.

The official reason for the delay/cancellation of the elections has been given by one of Fatah’s senior leaders, Hussein al-Sheikh, minister of civilian affairs and the official liaison with the Israelis. Unlike the deputy head of Fatah, Mahmoud Alloul, and the Fatah secretary and architect of the current process, Jibril Rajoub, Sheikh is not on the Fatah list.

Sheikh stated, tweeted and even used graphic illustrations in English to state that the Israelis have "officially" told Palestinians that Jerusalemites will not be allowed to participate in the upcoming elections. Palestinian officials have repeatedly said that without Jerusalem there will be no elections. When pressed to prove his point, Hussein admitted that the Israeli position was transmitted to him "verbally."

But a delegation of 13 European Union diplomats who met with Israeli Foreign Ministry officials April 27 was told the opposite. “During the meeting, Alon Bar emphasized to the ambassadors that the elections in the Palestinian Authority are an internal Palestinian issue and that Israel has no intention of intervening in them nor preventing them,” an Israeli Foreign Ministry statement was quoted in the Israeli media.

The pushback from the Palestinian public, qualified lists and the collapse of the Jerusalem excuse forced the Palestinian leadership to adjust its position. The latest Palestinian position is that Israel has until Thursday night to reverse its position and allow Palestinians in Jerusalem to participate.

The Oslo Accord, specifically the Sept. 18, 1995, signed Oslo II Accord (Article VI) states clearly the process by which Palestinians can participate in the elections, as candidates, campaigners and voters. The current 36 lists include 60 Jerusalemites, the most prominent among them is the only female head of a list, Fadwa Khader, of the the united left list, and Sari Nusseibeh, the No. 2 nominee on the Future list.

During a zoom meeting April 27 sponsored by ACT (Institution for Studies and Alternative Means of Conflict Resolution) of leading Jerusalemite intellectuals and civil society activists, attended by Al-Monitor, the election delay issue was thoroughly discussed. It was argued that a delay would be dangerous and will have long-term repercussions. They said that any temporary delay of the elections that are not clearly specified with a new date could easily become permanent and would take a lot more effort to convince the public of its importance.

Many Palestinians and observers feel that the Jerusalem issue is not the real reason for the delay but rather the possibility that Fatah and Abbas will not get a majority of seats and will have to reach coalition agreements. In addition, the presidential elections have put 86-year-old Abbas in a difficult position with imprisoned and popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti insisting on running for president, with polls showing he would easily beat any Palestinian nominee including Abbas.

Other reasons for a delay is the concern by Israel, the United States as well as Jordan and Egypt of the potential of the strengthening of Hamas’ power, especially in the West Bank due in part to the splintering of the nationalist votes and the potential of the loss of many votes that will be cast to lists that are largely in the nationalist’s camp that will not pass the 1.5% threshold.

Ironically, the very movement — Hamas — that Abbas and others are worried about is precisely the party that can stop the effort to delay the elections. Abbas quickly dispatched Sheikh to Qatar in order to convince the main financial supplier to Hamas to reign in the Islamic movement and to "encourage" them to agree to the delay, and ensure that they will not cause trouble if a decision in this direction is made.

The election that the Palestinians have delayed for 15 years appears set to be delayed again, despite the huge desire by Palestinians to make their voices heard. Of the 2.3 million qualified voters, 1 million are first-time voters. According to Palestinian election sources, 93% of qualified voters have registered to vote. A delay will cause a huge backlash and disillusionment to many Palestinians who genuinely believe that this time around their vote will be heard and can make a difference.

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