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Palestinian Elections: Between the Ambiguous and the Impossible

Palestinian Elections: Between the Ambiguous and the Impossible

Saturday, 18 January, 2020 - 12:15
Nabil Amr
Palestinian writer and politician

After weeks of commotion around the Palestinian general election, there has been less talk about it as a result of two reasons, one explicit and another implicit.

The explicit reason is that Israel is unsure whether it will permit the elections to take place in East Jerusalem.  As a result, no presidential decree on carrying out the elections has been issued yet. The implicit reason is fear among the political class of its influence being dissipated, an influence that it inherited, an influence that draws its legitimacy from an era that has ended. The factions that have maintained their positions in the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinain Authority do not want to test their strength in an election as they know that they would lose. These factions, which have already tried their luck in the previous elections and returned abysmal results, are not the only ones who do not want an election. There are others who share this aversion to the elections among Fatah and Hamas. This shared view led to a strong tendency to be suspicious of the general election. They are promoting nicely packaged justifications, claiming, for example, that holding an election without ending division will consecrate the latter, as if it was not the 13 years of feeding this division that consecrated it. Also, the ambiguity of the Israeli position on allowing the elections to be carried out in Jerusalem is being used to justify not carrying it out on any of the areas under the control of the national authority.

Objectively, the Palestinian general election has been suspended on two conditions, one ambiguous and the other impossible. Tying the election to the Israeli government allowing that it be carried out in Jerusalem has subjected the election, which ought to be a purely Palestinian affair, to the mercy of the results of the Israeli elections. With that in mind, until now, and perhaps until the end of the third electoral round, a clear Israeli decision in this regard seems unlikely. Who in Israel would take the risk of having its two leading contenders infringe on what they consider to be a qualitative achievement for Israel, Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Such recognition was out of the question when the Israeli government previously agreed to have the people of Jerusalem participate in the Palestinian general election.

Making this ambiguous issue even more ambiguous is the possibility of announcing the deal of the century right before or after the Israeli elections. A deal that will include provisions that would make it difficult for any Israeli government to agree that the people of Jerusalem take part in the Palestinian election. That is unless we assume that the Trump administration will pressure Israel to repeat what it had done twice before, which is very unlikely of an administration that suggested Abu Dis as an alternative capital for Palestine.

This is as far as the ambiguous reason goes. As for the impossible, it is tying the election, as some influential figures are suggesting, with ending the division first, contrary to the understanding that an election agreed upon by everyone would be the primary step towards restoring unity.

It can be noted, however, that there is not much talk about ending the division anymore, and that the efforts that were being made by mediators are no longer as extensive as before. This means, politically and practically, that the division has turned into a separation, and de-escalation talks between Hamas and Israel are actually going in that direction.

The likelihood of carrying out a general election has substantially diminished. Still, it is noteworthy that alternative proposals are being made, not about how the election can be carried out in Jerusalem but about ditching the election altogether. They propose to do so by replacing the elected Palestinian Legislative Council with the appointed Central Council that belongs to the era of factions. This would entail that the government is replaced with the executive committee. When the alternatives are carefully examined, it appears as the saying goes, “he who resorts to fire to escape the heat”.

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