Palestine will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hands the election decree to the Chairman of the Palestinian Central Election Committee Hana Naser in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank  onJanuary 15, 2021.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hands the election decree to the Chairman of the Palestinian Central Election Committee Hana Naser in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank onJanuary 15, 2021. (Reuters)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced parliamentary and presidential elections, 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 US 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, Palestine 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 occupied West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

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Reconciliation of all factions

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 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, which is Abbas' 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.”

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Tight contest  

The Palestinians' last parliamentary ballot, in 2006, resulted in a surprise win by Hamas, creating a rift that deepened when Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Recent polls suggest a tight contest.

In December 2020, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 38 percent would vote for Fatah in parliamentary elections, and 34 percent for Hamas.

But it predicted that Hamas would have the edge in a presidential vote, with 50 percent preferring Hamas leader Ismail Haniyyeh and 43 percent Abbas.

Although Abbas won the last presidential election in 2005, Hamas did not run against him.

Hamas dropped its boycott of the political process the following year, running a well-organised parliamentary campaign under the banner 'Change and Reform' and defeating the hitherto-dominant Fatah faction.

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 the capital of a future state.

Israel forbids any official activity in Jerusalem by the PA, saying it breaches 1990s interim peace deals.

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Source: Reuters