Rival Palestinian factions are meeting in attempt to facilitate long-overdue elections in Palestinian territories, but ordinary Palestinians view it with scepticism.

All mediation to end the rift between the two main rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas in the past twelve years have failed. It's hard for ordinary Palestinians to be optimistic about the ongoing talks surrounding elections in Palestine.

The Palestinian Authority’s Central Election Committee delegation met with Hamas leadership twice this past week in Gaza. The main purpose of the visit was to convey President Mahmoud Abbas’s views and conditions with regards to holding the overdue general elections and to prepare the ground for it.

The atmosphere was positive, with the PA's Hanna Nasser gifting Hamas’ leader Ismail Haneyyah a bottle of olive oil from the West Bank as a symbolic goodwill gesture. Representatives of other Palestinian political parties also attended the meetings. The delegation left Gaza and went back to Ramallah, but no timeline for elections has emerged.

For elections to take place, Hamas has stressed two conditions. First, Palestinians in Jerusalem must be allowed to vote, meaning that the PA must use its influence and make sure Israel does not interfere in this process, especially in occupied Jerusalem.  

Second, these general elections must be comprehensive and include legislative and presidential elections as well as reforming the National Council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Despite the obstacles — both internally among Palestinians and externally with regards to the Israeli occupation — rival parties expressed their readiness and are kicking into campaign mode. Hamas took to social media and used the hashtag “Jahzin" (ready) while Fatah used the hashtag “Musta’eddin” (prepared).

The election is a personal right and has always been viewed as the only way towards national reconciliation and an end to over a decade of division between the geographically separated Hamas-led Gaza and Fatah-led West Bank.

Both territories are isolated, linked only through the Israeli pedestrian terminal and checkpoint called the Erez Crossing. Gaza has been under a crippling Israeli siege since 2007, with the Egyptian Rafah crossing frequently closed, transforming the coastal strip into the world’s largest open-air prison.

The last legislative elections were held nearly fourteen years ago in January 2006, when Hamas won by a landslide and has been ruling besieged Gaza ever since. Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian National Authority in January 2005 for a four-year term which should have ended in January 2009.

But in a move that was described at the time in December 2009 by Hamas as unlawful and a subversion of democracy, the PLO indefinitely extended Abbas' term to avoid a constitutional crisis in the Palestinian territories. It is worth noting here that Abbas dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council (parliament) in December 2018.

Election prospects

Palestinian analysts, academics and writers seem to be noting an emerging consensus that shows it will be hard for anyone to form a majority and Fatah will have a tough time at the polls.

"They [Hamas and Fatah] have to form national unity government from all parties led by the party that scores the highest votes, otherwise what are the expected alliances for both Fatah and Hamas?” Ibrahim Abrash, professor of public law and political science, asked on Facebook.

A commitment to polls should be the primary focus of the two rival parties, with a national summit to oversee and discuss the details of the election process.

The new challenge for the Fatah party is Fatah’s Democratic Reformist Current (DRC) led by Mohammad Dahlan who was dismissed from the Fatah party before he formed his own DRC party in 2016. He said that he wants to take part in any electoral race. What could happen is that he allies with Hamas to defeat Abbas.

Dr Hani Al Bassos, a professor of political science told me that it is likely that the elections will take place and Hamas has given all "positive indications" that it is willing to facilitate them. He says that if fair elections are held in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, "I think Abbas' Fatah party will not win. I also think Dahlan’s Fatah party supporters will nominate their candidates - either affiliates from the party or independents and this is one of Abbass' fears."

The vast majority of ordinary Palestinians agree that an election is the only solution to overcome the political stalemate and boost the morale of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Only through power-sharing can Palestinians realise the aspirations of the nation and live in a free independent state.

Fahmi Shurrab, a Palestinian writer, says that the Palestinian Authority's domination of Palestinian leadership since 1994 will work against them and also thinks that Fatah will most likely not win with Hamas taking thirty percent of the vote.

"Dahlan party as well as PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] cannot be ignored as well, because those two parties stood by the people of Gaza and voiced their rejections against the punitive measures imposed on Gaza by Israel and Abbas himself."

The only way forward

Palestinians in exile, the Palestinian refugees and their descendants in the millions around the world, and mainly in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan should be given a chance to vote.

What people hope to see is new faces, including young national figures and personalities. People are fed up with the same names. People want to see tangible changes and improvements to their daily lives. They are dreaming of the moment when all personal and factional considerations are put aside, and instead, the national interest is placed above all other factors.

All Palestinians agree on forming a political partnership and leadership free of corruption. They need to feel that their opinions matter and their legal and human rights are met. They do not believe in slogans anymore. It's the Palestinian people who have been used as scapegoats and hostages by the main parties, especially those who live in Gaza. Tit-for-tat campaigns and blackmailing have caused this shameful division that cuts the fabric of Palestinian society.

Only transparent and fair general elections can resolve the crises and unite Palestinians. But what is more important is to regain trust and realise that people deserve to live in dignity and continue the struggle for freedom and to reach a peaceful settlement to the ongoing 72-year long conflict with Israel.

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