After 15 years without the population going to the polls, the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, announced on Friday (15) the holding of legislative and presidential elections for May 22 and July 31 respectively.
Abbas, who is the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), issued a presidential decree for the general elections, according to a statement from the official Wafa news agency. A third vote to elect the Palestinian National Council is due on August 31.
The last Palestinian presidential elections were held in January 2005 and the legislative elections in January 2006.
The move is widely seen as a response to criticisms of the democratic legitimacy of Palestinian political institutions, including Abbas’ presidency.
It also comes five days before the inauguration of the President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden, with whom the Palestinians want to renew relations after reaching a low point under Donald Trump.
“The president instructed the electoral committee and the entire state apparatus to launch a democratic electoral process in all cities of the country,” the decree said, referring to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
It is not yet clear whether Israel will allow residents of occupied and attached East Jerusalem to vote – the country bans all Palestinian National Authority activity, claiming it is breaking the interim peace accords of the 1990s.
Palestinian factions have renewed their reconciliation efforts to try to present a united front since Israel struck diplomatic agreements last year with four Arab countries – which has discouraged the Palestinians and left them increasingly isolated.
Hamas, a group that is Abbas’s main national rival, welcomed the announcement. “We have been working in recent months to resolve all obstacles so that we can reach this day,” the group said in a statement.
In September 2020, Fatah and Hamas agreed to hold elections “within six months” as part of a dialogue between Palestinian factions to join forces to deal with normalization between Israel and Arab countries.
With Biden taking office on January 20, “it is as if the Palestinians are telling the new US government: we are ready for engagement,” Gaza analyst Hani Habib said.
West Bank analyst Hani al-Masri is more skeptical of the possibility of elections.
He cites internal differences within Fatah and Hamas and the likely opposition of the United States, Israel and the European Union to any Palestinian government, including Hamas, which they see as a terrorist group.
“Will this end or perpetuate the division? And its results [eleitorais] Will they be respected by Palestinians, Israelis and Americans? Masri asked.
In 2016, the last Palestinian parliamentary vote resulted in a surprise victory for Hamas, creating a split that escalated when the group took military control of Gaza in 2007.
Recent research suggests fierce competition. In December 2020, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research found that 38% would vote for Fatah in parliamentary elections and 34% for Hamas.
But he predicted that Hamas would have the upper hand in a presidential vote, with 50% preferring group leader Ismail Haniyyeh and 43% choosing Abbas.
Although Abbas won the last presidential election in 2005, after the end of the second Palestinian intifada and the death of historic Fatah leader Yasser Arafat, Hamas did not run against him.
Hamas abandoned its boycott of the political process the following year, waging a well-organized parliamentary campaign under the slogan “Change and Reform” and defeating the hitherto dominant Fatah, which was widely seen as corrupt, nepotist and divided.
It is not yet clear how Abbas will overcome the logistical difficulties of holding elections in three areas, each under different control.