Analysis - Election Delay: An Abbas-Tel Aviv "Coup"

Analysis - Election Delay: An Abbas-Tel Aviv

President of Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas announced on Thursday he postponed the May general election planned after 15 years, once again shattering the hopes about forming an inclusive Palestinian unity government in the near future.

Ahlulbayt News Agency: President of Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas announced on Thursday he postponed the May general election planned after 15 years, once again shattering the hopes about forming an inclusive Palestinian unity government in the near future. 

According to earlier agreements between the Palestinian factions, parliamentary and presidential elections were planned in May and June, respectively, so that Palestinians could once again go to the polls to elect their leaders for the first time since the 2006 elections. There have been unprecedented enthusiasm among people and political groups to vote, with more than 95% of eligible adults registering to vote and 36 parliamentary lists joining in. 

In an address, Abbas blamed the Israelis for his decision who he said do not allow thousands of Palestinians to vote in al-Quds (Jerusalem). 

"We don't hold elections without al-Quds, and as soon as gaining the Israeli agreement, we will hold the election within a week," he said in a televised address. 

In the 2006 elections, the two sides agreed that Palestinians living in Eastern al-Quds would vote in Israeli post offices. This time, Palestinian officials have said that requests for a similar voting process and other efforts have gone unanswered. 

Israeli officials, on the other hand, have said that the Palestinian Authority alone is responsible for holding or postponing the elections, and accused Abbas of delaying the election under the ruse of the Israeli permission for the voting in al-Quds. 

Palestinian groups strongly reject 

Nearly all of those present in the 36 lists have rejected Abbas's argument. 

"Those who do not want election can easily find an excuse to make sure that it does not take place," Nabil Amro, a Fatah leader said. 

Hani Khalil, chairman of the political committee of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Gaza, said some officials were looking for excuses and "exploited al-Quds as a suitable issue to postpone the elections." 

Osama al-Faraa, from the Future List, backed by Mohammed Dahlan, said that what the Palestinian leadership has done is a major setback for all the efforts that everyone has made. 

Hamada Hamda, presiding over an NGO in Gaza supporting the freed prisoners, told Al Monitor news outlet that Abbas has to press the Israelis for a green light, not to surrender to them. "It is a shame that independent Palestinian decisions are tied to the Israeli approval," he went on. 

Mustafa al-Barqouthi, the head of Palestinian National Initiative, said: "We should not give the occupiers a veto right to halt our election process." 

Talal Abu Dharifa, a member of the political office of the Democratic Front, held that postponing the elections is a violation of people's essential rights. "Elections are key to rebuilding the Palestinian political system and institutions, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority." 

Meanwhile, along with most Palestinian groups, Hamas, the Fatah movement's main rival, called the decision to postpone the election a "coup." The movement said it boycotted the decision-making session because it already knew that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority intended to delay the vote due to "calculations not related to al-Quds." 

Although insisting that polls should also be held in Eastern al-Quds, Hamas, a leading movement in Gaza, rejected the argument that Abbas's main reason to make such a decision was the Israeli disagreement. 

Abbas fears defeat in the election 

There is no doubt the Israeli regime has made every effort to prevent the holding of elections in the current situation, mainly to prevent Hamas from gaining power in the West Bank, as well as to maintain the intra-Palestinian divisions. Hamas has stated that it will not commit to any existing agreements with Tel Aviv or to any concessions in the military field if it wins the elections. The arrest and intimidation of Hamas members in West Bank in recent weeks bore warnings that election would not be held. 

The arguments made by Abbas's opponents about his excuse to postpone the elections are rational. A look at polls discloses how Hamas's popularity is surging while Abbas and Fatah are falling out of public favor. 

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), a polling organization based in Ramallah, published results of a poll that showed shrinking public support for the Palestinian Authority and continuation of Abbas's presidency. 

Of the 1,270 Palestinian respondents - 830 from the West Bank and 440 from the Gaza Strip - the poll showed that between two-thirds and three-quarters did not trust his promises to cut ties with the Israeli regime and suspend security cooperation, and called for freezing Oslo Accords with the Israelis. 

The results also showed that support for the two-state solution is record low —less than 40 percent— since signing of the Accords in 1993. They also showed that 62 percent want Abbas to step down. This demand is 52 percent in West Bank and 78 in Gaza. The contentment rate with his performance is 37 percent and the discontentment is 60 percent. 

The results of this poll confirmed the increasing credibility and popularity of Hamas political and military orientations in creating an anti-Israeli armed struggle in the West Bank and opening a full-fledged front against the occupying regime. 

This, in turn, caused fears among Palestinian Authority and Israeli leaders of Hamas victory. 

Predicting Abbas excuses for election delay 

It has been a while since Hamas questioned Abbas's commitment to holding the election. Since the announcement of the election dates, Hamas were concerned that sudden setting of dates for election after 15 years of illegal presidency was a maneuvering to protest White House measures under Donald Trump. Hamas foresaw a delay under the excuse of disagreement with Gaza, Israeli obstructions in Eastern al-Quds, or Coronavirus crisis. 

Hamas has made various concessions to Fatah to facilitate the conditions for the elections, including accepting the electoral arrangements that are more favorable to Abbas and Fatah, such as not holding all three elections at the same time, despite fears that Abbas may abort the election process after the Legislative Council elections. Moreover, Hamas accepted legitimacy of the PLO as an institution officially representing the Palestinian people on the international stage. It also agreed to the new electoral system, which is favorable to Fatah. 

Hamas also withdrew from the presidential election candidacy in a bid to preserve the national unity, allowing the major rivalry to be among various Fatah figures like the former Palestinian Authority's security chief Mohammed Dahlan, former leader Yasser Arafat's nephew Nasser al-Qudwa, and intifada's key head Marwan Al-Barghouthi. 

Hamas and others rejecting the election delay urge Fatah leaders not to surrender to the Israeli obstructions and pressures and seek creative solutions like setting up polling stations in mosques and schools. Over 360,000 Palestinians live in al-Quds. According to the so-called peace agreements signed in the 1990s between the PLO and Tel Aviv, about 6,000 Palestinians cast their ballots in Eastern al-Quds using services provided by Israeli post office and 150,000 others managed to vote without Israeli permission. As the Palestinians now more than ever having the international backing, holding election in Al-Quds is completely feasible. Actually, by insisting on the postponement, Abbas and Fatah only further damage their already-decking legitimacy.

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