Last Thursday, the Palestinian Supreme Court in Ramallah ruled that the Palestinian municipal elections, which were scheduled to take place on October 8, must be postponed ‘’indefinitely’’. A ruling that reflects infighting in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, deepening rift between Fatah and Islamic Hamas and rising instability in Palestinian cities.
The highest Palestinian court sited “procedural problems in Gaza,” where Hamas is the ruling power. Hamas-controlled courts in the Gaza Strip have disqualified a number of candidates’ lists backed by the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.
The court also ruled that “elections can’t take place in one place and not the other”. Although lists of candidates had been submitted in some East Jerusalem neighbourhoods such as Beit Hanina, Abu Dis and Kafr Aqab, Israel made it clear to the Palestinian Authority in July that it will not allow elections to take place in areas in Jerusalem under its sovereignty.
The court said that the municipal vote would be postponed until at least December 21 and that the issue would be considered again on September 21. It remains unclear whether the court is likely to change its mind in the interim period.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhr rejected the court’s ruling, calling it a “political decision”. He added: “We reject the decision to cancel the election and call on everyone to reject it.”
The Palestinian leadership insists that the suspension of the elections is exclusively a ‘’legal’’ matter.
However, Fatah spokesman Osama al-Qawasmi said they “hold Hamas fully responsible for foiling the election, starting with the unjustified petitions it filed” against Fatah-affiliated electoral lists in Gaza.
Palestinian political experts said the decision was probably prompted by pressure from Palestinian Authority President Mahoud Abbas, who has faced calls within his own party to cancel the vote amid concern it could open the door for political gains in the West Bank by Hamas.
Ever since Hamas violently seized the Gaza Strip from the PA in 2007, relations between Fatah and Hamas have been bitter. There have been several attempts at reconciliation between the two factions since then, but none have come to fruition.
The last municipal elections involving both Fatah and Hamas took place in 2004. Fatah won 34% and Hamas 30% of the votes. In 2012, the Islamic movement boycotted the elections which resulted in a sweeping Fatah victory.
Elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) took place in 2006. Hamas won a majority but the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, has not convened the forum since then.
‘’Can the Palestinians hold free and fair elections?’’, asked Israeli-Arab journalist and TV producer Khaled Abu Toameh, a top expert covering Palestinian affairs since 30 years, in a paper he recently wrote for the Gatestone Institute.
EIPA will host this month Abu Toameh during exclusive briefings and interviews in Berlin (27 September), Brussels (28 September) and Paris (29 September). He will discuss issues at stake in the Palestinian scene and answer questions. ‘’Where are the Palestinians heading?’’, ‘’Are they prepared for statehood?’’ among others.
Khaled Abu Toameh has served as a producer for NBC News and has also produced documentaries for BBC, German TV and Denmark’s TV-2. He also worked for US News & World Report, The Jerusalem Report and The Jerusalem Post.
He studied at the Hebrew University and currently lives in Jerusalem.