Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is under pressure to postpone the first Palestinian elections in 15 years as his party, Fatah, has split and his faction could fail to win a majority in parliament in next month’s poll. Presidential and Palestine Liberation Organisation national council elections are scheduled for July and August.
Fatah is haunted by the 2006 legislative election when Hamas, which rules Gaza, won a landslide due to divisions within mainstream Fatah, which currently has to compete with dissident factions led by Nasser al-Qudwa, nephew of the late leader Yasser Arafat; and exile Mohammad Dahlan, a former Gaza strongman.
Hamas has warned that delay would harm efforts to achieve Palestinian unity, which has been promoted as a goal of the elections.
Fatah loyalists argue that Israel has ignored the Palestinian application for permission for 150,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians to be allowed to vote in the elections and said that unless Israel agrees, the elections should be postponed.
Under the 1990s Oslo accords, Palestinian Jerusalemites were not only permitted to vote but also to field candidates who had the right to campaign in the holy city.
Although its fate is meant to be decided in negotiations, Israel contends that East Jerusalem, occupied in 1967, has been incorporated into Israel’s capital and there should be no Palestinian political activity there. In the three previous elections, Israel banned electioneering but allowed a token number of Palestinians to vote in East Jerusalem post offices, while most cast ballots in West Bank suburbs.
Palestinians are eager to go to the polls and the postponement of the elections would be highly unpopular. Since an unprecedented 93 per cent of eligible voters have registered, it is anticipated that many, if not most, want change. Mr Abbas’s reign has been characterised by mismanagement, corruption and failure to curb Israeli settlement expansion.
Nevertheless, Fatah officials have genuine reasons for raising the issue of East Jerusalem which, as recent rioting has shown, has become a flashpoint. Settlers have moved into Palestinian quarters within the historic walled city as well as surrounding neighbourhoods, evicting Palestinians from their homes.
Israel has also detained Palestinian Authority officials operating in East Jerusalem and raided the Edward Said Conservatory of Music and the Yabus Cultural Centre. Israel has closed offices of the Palestinian education directorate dealing with school curriculums and Palestinian television.
Postponement would grant the deeply unpopular Mr Abbas, whose term expired in 2009, an extension and allow Fatah to continue its dominance in the West Bank.
While the European Union has promoted elections, the United States as well as Arab leaders in Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf are not against delay. They favour a West Bank government which excludes Hamas, rejects violence, recognises Israel, sticks to agreements and supports negotiations on the moribund “two state solution”, involving the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.