Critical facts about the upcoming Palestinian Authority elections
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.
Soon after the 2006 elections, PA President/Chairman Mahmoud Abbas deposed the elected Hamas government. 12 years later, he dissolved the Parliament.
According to a Palestinian poll, in a race for President/Chairman of the PA between Abbas and Hamas leader Haniyeh, terrorist Haniyeh would win.
The majority of Palestinians believe that irrespective of the results of the elections, Fatah will continue to control the areas of the West Bank under PA control and Hamas will continue to control the Gaza Strip.
Before the elections, the US administration and the EU should clarify that Hamas, and other internationally designated terror organizations, should not be allowed to participate in the upcoming Palestinian elections.
The US and EU should further clarify that if any representative of a designated terror organization is elected to the Palestinian Parliament or as President/Chairman of the PA, all financial aid to the PA would halt.
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.