Palestinians announce first elections in 15 years, on eve of Biden era
"The President instructed the election committee and all state apparatuses to launch a democratic election process in all cities of the homeland," the decree said, referring to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Palestinian factions have renewed reconciliation efforts to try and present a united front since Israel reached diplomatic agreements last year with four Arab countries.Reuters | Updated: 16-01-2021 02:23 IST | Created: 16-01-2021 01:10 IST
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced parliamentary and presidential elections on Friday, the first in 15 years, in an effort to heal long-standing internal divisions.
The move is widely seen as a response to criticism of the democratic legitimacy of Palestinian political institutions, including Abbas's presidency. It also comes days before the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, with whom the Palestinians want to reset relations after they reached a low under President Donald Trump.
According to a decree issued by Abbas's office, the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31. "The President instructed the election committee and all state apparatuses to launch a democratic election process in all cities of the homeland," the decree said, referring to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Palestinian factions have renewed reconciliation efforts to try and present a united front since Israel reached diplomatic agreements last year with four Arab countries. Those accords, brokered by the outgoing Trump administration, dismayed Palestinians and left them increasingly isolated in a region that has seen allegiances shift to reflect shared fears of Iran by Israel and Sunni-led Gulf Arab states.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group which is Abbas's main domestic rival, welcomed the announcement. "We have worked in the past months to resolve all obstacles so that we can reach this day," a Hamas statement said.
It called for fair elections, in which "electorates can express their will without restrictions or pressures, and with full justice and transparency." With Biden taking office on Jan. 20, "it is as if the Palestinians are telling the incoming U.S. administration: we are ready to engage," Gaza political analyst Hani Habib said.
Recent polls suggest there would be a tight contest this time around. A December 2020 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 38% would vote for Fatah in parliamentary elections, and 34% for Hamas. But Hamas edges a presidential vote, with 50% prefering Hamas leader Ismail Haniyyeh and 43% Abbas.
Although Abbas won the last presidential election in January 2005, he faced no serious opposition as Hamas did not run against him. But in 2006 Hamas ran a well-organised parliamentary campaign under the banner 'Change and Reform' - defeating Abbas's hitherto-dominant Fatah faction that was widely seen as corrupt, nepotistic, out of touch and divided.
It remains unclear how Abbas will overcome the logistical difficulties of holding elections in three areas, each under different control. Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move that has not won international recognition. It regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians seek the city's east as capital of a future state.
Israel forbids any official activity in Jerusalem by the PA, saying it breaches 1990s interim peace deals. (Additional reporting by Zainah El-Haroun in Ramallah. Writing by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell Editing by Toby Chopra and William Maclean)
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