Critical facts about the upcoming Palestinian Authority elections

editor - 25 January 2021

The Palestinian Authority is preparing to hold its first election for PA President in 16 ‎years and for the Palestinian Parliament in 15 years. The last elections for the Palestinian Parliament, in 2006, ended with Hamas – an ‎internationally designated terror organization – winning the majority of seats in the ‎Parliament and forming a government.

On Jan. 15, 2021, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas published a ‎presidential decree setting the dates for Palestinian elections. According to the decree, ‎elections for the Palestinian Parliament (The Palestinian Legislative Council) will take ‎place on May 22, 2021. These elections will be followed by elections for the PA ‎‎“President”/Chairman on July 31, 2021.‎

According to the PA Elections Law no. 9 of 2005, as amended by law by a decree from ‎‎2007, elections for the position of “President” must be held every four years (section 3(2)). ‎The incumbent can remain in the position for a maximum of two terms (section 3(2)). ‎According to the same law, elections for the Palestinian Parliament are also meant to be ‎held every four years (section 4(2)). ‎

Despite the law, elections for the PA President/Chairman were last held in January 2005. ‎On Jan. 12, 2005, the PA Central Elections Committee confirmed that Mahmoud Abbas ‎had been elected. Since no new elections were ever held, on Jan 12, 2021, Abbas started ‎his seventeenth year of his first four-year term as “President” of the PA. ‎

The situation regarding elections for the Palestinian Parliament is not much different. The ‎last general elections for the Palestinian Parliament were held in January 2006. As PMW has reported, in those elections Hamas – an internationally designated terror organization – won the popular vote ‎in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and a majority of the seats in the parliament, ‎where Hamas won 74 seats out of the 132 seats. Following the electoral success, Hamas’ ‎leader, Ismail Haniyeh, formed the new PA government. ‎

The Hamas win posed a significant challenge to Abbas, the PA’s international donors and ‎supporters, and Israel. Abbas had been elected PA President/Chairman just a year prior ‎after the death of Yasser Arafat. His Fatah party had controlled the PA since its creation in ‎‎1994. Abbas and Fatah were unwilling to relinquish the control they had enjoyed for over a ‎decade. The international donors, predominantly the United States and the European ‎Union, were suddenly faced with the problem that any aid they gave to the PA would be ‎controlled by Hamas, which is designated as a terror organization by both the US and the ‎EU. From Israel’s point of view, Hamas’ election was also very problematic, to say the least. ‎Emboldened by the electoral win, from the beginning of 2006, Hamas substantially ‎increased its terror attacks on Israel. These attacks reached their peak on June 25, 2006, ‎when Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel from Gaza, killed two Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped ‎soldier Gilad Shalit. ‎

In response to the rise in terror attacks and immediately following the attack and kidnapping ‎of Shalit, Israel arrested most of the Hamas members of government. ‎

Abbas seized the opportunity, deposed the remainder of the government and replaced it ‎with a so-called “technocrat” government, which was dominated by Fatah and would ‎continue and increase to be so over time. ‎

Hamas, angry with the actions of Abbas, seized control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of ‎‎2007. ‎

Since then, de facto, the lawfully elected Palestinian parliament stopped functioning. ‎Hamas has continued its control of the Gaza Strip ever since, while Abbas and Fatah ‎control the PA areas in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria.  ‎

In December 2018, Abbas dissolved the parliament promising new elections within six ‎months. He never delivered.  ‎

On the backdrop of this abysmal “democratic tradition”, the Palestinian leadership has now ‎decided to hold elections for both PA “President” and for the PA parliament. In anticipation ‎of the elections, the Dec. 2020 survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey ‎Research provides important insight to understanding what is to be expected in the ‎elections. ‎

The first major finding of the survey is that in a presidential race between Fatah’s ‎Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh, most Palestinians would vote for terror head ‎Haniyeh (50% for Haniyeh vs. only 43% for Abbas). This result is not necessarily a ‎reflection of the widespread Palestinian support for terror, but more likely a reflection of the ‎demand of most Palestinians (66% according to the poll) that Abbas resign. It is also ‎probably the result of the belief of the majority of the Palestinian public (52%) that Abbas is ‎the wrong candidate and that Fatah has better options.‎

According to the poll, the most dominant of the alternative Fatah candidates, is Marwan ‎Barghouti. This astonishing option ignores the fact that, As PMW has reported,  Barghouti has been convicted for ‎his involvement in the murder of 5 Israelis, and is currently serving 5 consecutive life ‎sentences plus an additional 40 years in an Israeli prison. If Barghouti were to face Hamas’ ‎Haniyeh in presidential elections, Barghouti would receive 61% of the vote as opposed to ‎‎37% voting for Haniyeh. ‎

The other senior Fatah leaders who might consider themselves potential candidates to ‎replace Abbas, do not enjoy substantial popular support: Only 9.7% of those polled named ‎Muhammad Dahlan a better option than Abbas, and only 2.2% named Jibril Rajoub, the ‎current Fatah Secretary. ‎

In general, the poll reflected the widespread (86%) Palestinian perception of corruption in ‎the Fatah-dominated PA institutions, as compared to a less negative perception (63%) ‎regarding the institutions controlled by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.‎

Interestingly, the Palestinian dissatisfaction appears to be personally linked to Abbas in his ‎capacity as “President”. ‎

This understanding is reflected by the fact that when asked which party they would vote for ‎in the upcoming elections for the Palestinian Parliament, 37.6% of those polled said they ‎would vote for Fatah, while 33.6% would vote for the “Change and Reform” (Hamas) party. ‎The fringe terror organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), ‎would win only 2.4% of the vote.   ‎

While 72.6% of those polled expressed support for holding the elections, 60.5% are ‎skeptical whether the elections will actually take place. Most of those polled expressed ‎skepticism as to whether Fatah or Hamas would accept the other one winning. 75.9% of ‎those polled said Fatah would not accept a Hamas win and would not allow Hamas to form ‎a single government with jurisdiction over both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. 57.5% ‎said that Hamas would not accept the result of a Fatah win.  ‎

The excuse often cited by the Fatah leadership for not holding elections in the last 15 years ‎is the Israeli objection to elections being held in Jerusalem. In truth, the Israeli objection ‎was not a principled objection to holding elections, but rather the specific objection to Israeli ‎and internationally designated terror organizations, such as Hamas and the PFLP, ‎participating in the elections, including having the ability to campaign in Jerusalem. While ‎Fatah had no qualms about deposing the Hamas 2006 government, when it came to ‎elections that might have undermined its dominance, Fatah suddenly became the ‎guardian of Palestinian democracy. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas, on the other hand, saw no ‎difficulty imposing its electoral success on Fatah, including – when deemed necessary – ‎throwing Fatah members off the tops of buildings.      ‎

In the meantime, despite their differences, both Fatah and Hamas seem to be publicly ‎engaged and committed to holding the elections. Whether those elections will ever take ‎place, and whether the results of the elections will indeed effect any change, remains to be ‎seen. ‎

The interim period, however, raises a number of fundamental questions, not only for the ‎Palestinians, but predominantly for the new Biden Administration, the European Union, ‎and other major supporters of the PA.‎

While the Palestinians consider Hamas and the PFLP to be legitimate “Palestinian ‎factions”, as noted above, both organizations are designated by the US and the EU as ‎terror organizations. As outlawed organizations, these groups would, needless to say, be ‎prohibited from running for office in any election held in the US and EU.

Are the Biden Administration or the EU going to accept the participation of designated terror ‎organizations in the Palestinian electoral process or are they going to expect Israel to ‎ignore the fact that these homicidal organizations – responsible for the murder of hundreds ‎of Israelis and other foreign nationals – are designated terror organizations and demand ‎that Israel allow them to run in the elections, including campaigning in Jerusalem – the ‎scene of scores of their murderous attacks? ‎

Assuming that the Biden Administration and the EU do accept the Palestinian dictate to ‎allow the participation of Hamas, and potentially other terror organizations in the elections, ‎what will their position be when the leader of Hamas, Haniyeh, is elected PA “President”? ‎Will they continue to provide the PA with financial aid, despite it being a clear breach of ‎their own domestic anti-terror laws? This question is further complicated when one takes ‎into account that in the US, not only is Hamas a designated terror organization, but rather ‎Haniyeh is also personally designated as a terrorist.  ‎

What will happen if Hamas, as was the case in 2006, wins the elections for the Palestinian ‎Parliament, and is then charged with forming the new Palestinian government? Will the ‎US and the EU continue to grant legitimacy to a PA government led by a designated terror ‎organization? As noted above, in the 2006 elections, Hamas ran as the “Change and ‎Reform” party. While this cosmetic name change appeared to have been sufficient to ‎facilitate their participation in 2006, since then, that veil of deception has been clearly ‎removed and there is no question that Hamas and “Change and Reform” are identical ‎entities.  ‎

On a similar note, if Hamas does win either the presidential elections or the parliamentary ‎elections or both, and Fatah, as most Palestinians expect, refuses to relinquish control, will ‎the Biden Administration and the EU continue to support the de facto Fatah dictatorship in ‎the West Bank?‎

The option of “crossing that bridge when we get to it” is clearly not a sound basis for making ‎major foreign policy decisions. When deciding whether to actively support Hamas ‎participation in the elections, and potentially applying pressure on Israel to agree or ‎facilitate the participation, or whether to just acquiesce to Hamas participation, leaving it to ‎Palestinians to find a solution to that problem, the potential of Hamas winning the ‎presidential elections or the parliamentary elections or both, should be considered a ‎probable outcome.‎

If reason and basic morality were to prevail, the Biden Administration and the EU would ‎make it clear that they do not accept, in any shape or form, the participation of US and EU ‎designated terror organizations in the Palestinian elections, and that they are unwilling to ‎facilitate – in any manner – such a decision. Moreover, they would do well to clarify that any ‎member of Hamas holding any position in the PA, would automatically result in the ‎immediate cessation of any aid to the PA. Similarly, the US and EU would do well to clarify ‎that they do not and would not accept, permitting Marwan Barghouti – a convicted murderer ‎of 5, who is currently serving consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison – run as a ‎legitimate candidate to be President of the PA or to hold any position in the Palestinian ‎Parliament. ‎


Article republished with permission from Palestinian Media Watch:

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