RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hamas has tentatively agreed to some compromises regarding elections in the Palestinian territories, though it has a series of demands it believes are essential for the process to be successful.
Hamas announced it approves of holding presidential and legislative elections in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The movement's political bureau head, Ismail Haniyeh, delivered the news at a press conference following an Oct. 28 meeting in Gaza of Hamas, other Palestinian factions and a Central Elections Commission delegation.
Hamas’ decision shows flexibility, as it agrees to hold legislative elections first, then presidential ones. Hamas and some other Palestinian factions previously rejected this idea and called for holding the elections simultaneously, along with the Palestinian National Council elections.
Hamas also is amenable, unlike before, to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas determining election dates, even before a national meeting is held that would include Palestinian factions to discuss technical details and procedural and legal measures. That meeting is also likely to focus on the demands Haniyeh announced Nov. 10.
Haniyeh underlined the importance of respecting the results of the elections and not repeating the 2006 election scenario, when Hamas won overwhelmingly but the results faced foreign and domestic objections, which led to the Palestinian split.
The demand that might constitute a point of contention between Fatah and Hamas is Hamas’ call for freedom of political work in the West Bank, including halting the Palestinian security institutions’ pursuit of Hamas members in the West Bank, and keeping the Abbas-appointed Constitutional Court at an impartial distance from the elections.
The Constitutional Court is responsible for several tasks, including monitoring constitutional rules and laws, interpreting the texts of the Basic Law and other laws in case of challenges, and deciding jurisdictional disputes. The court is competent to examine the constitutionality of any legislation or act.
On Oct. 27, eight Palestinian rights’ organizations sent a memo to Abbas asking him to take back his 2016 decision amending the Constitutional Court Law to dilute the separation of powers by increasing his own. They asserted that the Constitutional Court should be reestablished after legislative and presidential elections are held, to institutionalize democratic life in the Palestinian territories.
Haniyeh also demanded that the issue of parliament members' pensions be resolved. The PA had stopped disbursing their pensions after the Constitutional Court, at Abbas' request, disbanded the Palestinian Legislative Council in December. Hamas had held the majority on the council.
Fatah refused to comment to the media on Hamas’ demands. Fatah’s Central Elections Commission urged Hamas to hand over a written response to commission head Hanna Nasser regarding its stance on Abbas’ election conditions.
Fatah Revolutionary Council secretary Majed al-Fetiani told Al-Monitor the ball is now in Hamas’ court.
Fetiani noted that the presidential decree that determines the date of elections will be issued only after the Central Elections Commission announces it received written responses from all factions. He said the commission then will outline times for the stages of the electoral process, beginning with citizens’ registration and ending with Election Day and the announcement of results. The decree will pave the way for a national dialogue between the factions to discuss details of the elections.
Hamas was still examining Abbas’ conditions when this story was written. Al-Monitor learned that Hamas approved of responding to Abbas’ memo in writing, but hadn't clarified whether its response to all conditions would be positive or negative. Hamas will submit its response the next time the elections commission meets in Gaza Strip; no date for that meeting had been set. On Nov. 6, a traveling Hamas delegation met with various Hamas leaders abroad to discuss the issues.
Abbas has also called on Arab and international commissions, legislative institutions and local, regional and international civil society organizations to oversee the electoral process.
Ahmad Youssef, a former adviser to Haniyeh and head of the nongovernmental organization House of Wisdom, told Al-Monitor that Haniyeh’s conditions won't impede efforts to hold elections.
He said, “The case of parliament members who were deprived of their salaries has an ethical dimension and can be agreed on through dialogue.” He added that the dispute over the Constitutional Court stems from the president’s decision to form it unilaterally rather than by consulting with other factions or adopting transparency standards. He believes the issue can be resolved satisfactorily.
Regarding Hamas’ freedom of political action in the West Bank, and that of Fatah in Gaza, an understanding can be reached and positive outcomes can be achieved, he said, especially as security pursuits work both ways — they are happening in both Gaza and the West Bank.
Despite the optimism surrounding efforts to hold elections, Hamas’ stance toward Abbas’ memo will have the next say in the issue of elections. If Hamas approves of the memo, Abbas will have to issue a presidential decree setting the date of elections and launch a national dialogue to discuss all the details. If Hamas rejects the memo, hopes to hold elections will collapse once again.
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