Palestine Pulse

Challenges in Jerusalem, Gaza threaten Palestinian legislative elections

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Article Summary
The Palestinian Authority must be able to hold elections in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for the polls to be legitimate.

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK — The Ramallah-based Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC) is arranging a visit by its delegation to the Gaza Strip to meet with the Palestinian factions there, mainly the Hamas movement, to discuss participation in the upcoming Palestinian legislative elections.

CEC director Hisham Kahil told Al-Monitor that no date has been set yet, pending the return of Hamas leaders from their overseas tour and obtaining the necessary permits from the Israeli authorities.

A delegation from Hamas headed by its political bureau head Ismail Haniyeh met with Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo Feb. 3 to discuss the truce with Israel, national reconciliation with Fatah and the blockade in place against the coastal enclave since 2007. The delegation met with representatives of the Palestinian factions in the CEC headquarters in Ramallah Feb. 4.

During a meeting with CEC President Hanna Nasser in Ramallah Jan. 20, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave his blessing to the CEC's preliminary works and talks with the different factions. The commission will submit a report to Abbas on the results of its consultations for the elections.

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Kahil stressed that the CEC will make every effort to ensure the participation of all forces in the elections, which would require several visits to the Gaza Strip and meetings with Hamas and the other factions.

The Palestinian Constitutional Court decided Dec. 12, 2018, to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council and hold legislative elections within six months of the resolution. Hamas condemned the move as illegitimate.

The PA is also working to arrange elections in Jerusalem, where polling will be impossible if Israel does not agree. Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad said in a Feb. 6 interview on Palestinian state TV that Abbas confirmed in his speech to the Revolutionary Council Feb. 6 that there would be no elections without East Jerusalem.

In another Feb. 6 interview with Russian Sputnik, Abbas said, “We will announce the date of the elections when they can be held in both Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, along with the West Bank.”

Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told Al-Monitor the elections must “include Jerusalem, otherwise they will not be held.” He explained, “Jerusalem is a national and political issue. Holding elections in the city is the essence of the electoral process.”

Majdalani said, “If Israel rejects [PA elections in Jerusalem], it will have to assume its responsibilities before the entire world. This is what makes holding elections in Jerusalem a political issue and a struggle.”

Majdalani expressed fear that Israel will block the elections to destroy the Palestinian political system, which derives its legitimacy and strength from elections at home and abroad. He believes that Israel may argue that Jerusalem is its capital under Israeli law and with US President Donald Trump’s recognition.

Last year, the Hamas movement said it would participate in elections provided they include the presidency and the PLO National Council in tandem with the legislature.

“Should Hamas prevent the elections from taking place in Gaza, we will have to find alternative options to deal with the situation,” Majdalani noted. He explained that one option could be for candidates from the Gaza Strip to run in the elections, but for Gazans living in the Strip to be excluded from voting.

Elections in East Jerusalem are governed by specific agreements between the Palestinian and Israeli sides. Article 6 of Annex II of the Palestinian-Israeli Interim Agreement, commonly known as Oslo II of Sept. 28, 1995, stipulates that voting in East Jerusalem would take place at five Israeli post offices.

The last Palestinian legislative elections, held in 2006, included the Jerusalem district, where the CEC opened three voter registration centers for Jerusalemites and Israel established another post office, bringing to the polling places in the city to six. Another 14 polling stations were located in the city’s suburbs, according to the CEC website. 

Kahil explained that holding elections in East Jerusalem requires unity among the Palestinian factions and leadership as well as international pressure on Israel to allow them. He noted that representatives of the Palestinian General Authority of Civil Affairs are in constant contact with the Israeli authorities on the issue of elections.

Kahil stressed that since 2005, the CEC has been clear that it will not supervise any elections that do not include Jerusalem, which is also the position of the PA presidency. He added that Gazan citizens must be included as well. He said elections are based on the participation of all citizens, and voting is their constitutional right. Furthermore, the participation of all citizens ensures the credibility of elections.

It appears that 13 years after the last Palestinian legislative elections, the road to the ballot box is riddled with obstacles that are unlikely to be overcome in the foreseeable future.

 

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Found in: israeli occupation, hamas, palestinian politics, palestinian authority, west bank, gaza strip, palestinian elections, east jerusalem, jerusalem

Ahmad Melhem is a Palestinian journalist and photographer based in Ramallah for Al-Watan News. He writes for a number of Arabic outlets.

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