Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud #Abbas announced that the elections of the Palestinian Legislative Council will be held in May 2021 and Presidential elections will be held in July 2021. This comes after continuous postponement of the Palestinian elections over a period of 15 years, since 2006, ever since Hamas defeated Fatah and took control of the Gaza strip.
Hamas does not accept the right to exist of Israel and has vowed to destroy it. To mention, Hamas is also recognized as a terrorist organization by both Israel and the United States and if Hamas secures a victory in the upcoming Palestinian elections, it will be very difficult for the Israeli leadership to engage with the new Palestinian leadership.
Israel has been pretty categorical affirming that a government by Hamas in the occupied Palestinian territories will be unacceptable. The real question is if the Palestinians have any better choices between Abbas’s party, Fatah, and Hamas.
At this point, it is interesting to mention that not only Mahmoud Abbas will run for Fatah. In March 2021, a politician of Fatah, Marwan Bourghati decided to run for presidency. Bourghati is currently facing charges for the murder of five Israelis and is currently in prison. He is a very respected figure within the party, but his supporters have now broken with Fatah and will contest against the party. Marwan Bourghati ran for President in 2004 but then decided to back President Abbas in the election, which Abbas subsequently won. But things are different now. His entry in this race turns the election, posing a new threat to Abbas’s position. This statement is corroborated by the fact that according to a poll released in March 2021 indicated that 47% of Palestinians want to see Bourghati run in the election and that Hamas will not be a match for him as per the poll.
Years of conflict have also dented the confidence of the Palestinian people in the elections, with majority of the population believing that neither Fatah nor Hamas will accept the results if either of them loses. As per the poll, Abbas is highly unpopular and many don’t want him to run.
Looking at the polling data, there is speculation that Abbas may postpone the election in order to prevent loss of face for him and his party Fatah. Abbas has an exit route in not holding the election by bringing in Israel in the election battle. The involvement would be possible by bringing up the premise of allowing Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote, needing Israeli permission. A rejection of an Israeli permit to allow Palestinians to vote in East Jerusalem can be a good pretext for Mahmoud Abbas to cancel the election.
Elections in Palestinian territories are essential: over the years, President Abbas has been ruling by decree and becoming more and more authoritarian. For instance, President Abbas passed a decree in 2017 which can jail anyone who harms national unity. Journalists have been summoned by the Palestinian authority who put posts critical of government policy. Websites associated with rival groups like Hamas have been blocked, to prevent their message from reaching the Palestinian people. Consequently, it has been argued that President Abbas is stifling the freedom of expression by these decrees. President Abbas also established a constitutional court filled with Fatah members or members affiliated to Fatah. Many analysts argue that by doing this President Abbas has concentrated more power in his hands than ever before.
To conclude, President Abbas is not the legitimate President of Palestine, as elections for the Presidency have not been held since 2005 and President Abbas has been constantly delaying them. The international community is called to ensure that the Palestinian Authority holds these elections. However, with Bourghati now entering the fray and a possible consequent division of the Fatah vote, a Hamas victory cannot be ruled out, which would create another level of confrontation with Israel. Considering the current volatile situation in Palestine, an eventual postponement of the elections will not be a surprise. On the other hand, if the Palestinian authority, even after so many issues, is able to conduct a free and fair election in, its credibility will definitely rise.