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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Palestinian factions are cautiously optimistic about the potential of holding long overdue national elections after all sides delivered their approval of elections in writing to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in November, according to officials.
Dr Wasel Abu Yousef, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) told The National that the Palestinian Authority, led by Mr Abbas and which operates limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, is conducting serious preparations to ensure successful Palestinian elections. It would be the first in more than a decade. The last Palestinian vote was held in 2005.
"We are persistent to hold elections and will continue to press for it. It's our people's right and not a decision in the hands of political factions," Dr Mustafa Al-Barghouti, General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, told The National.
“The Palestinian people were deprived of elections for more than a decade. They should obtain their right to elect those they see fit to lead them."
According to Dr Abu Yousef, the failure of reconciliation agreements to end the 13 years long Palestinian division was the main motive to seek elections as an alternative option to achieve national unity.
Dr Barghouti, who was President Abbas's main contender in the 2005 elections, is hopeful that "elections would be a pathway to end intra-Palestinian division; because a unified legislative council would emerge from it."
Hamas and the PA have been at loggerheads since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 and ousted Mr Abbas’ Fatah faction from the coastal enclave.
Dr Barghouti explained that he's spearheading efforts to see an end to the division through elections by calling for holding "a national unity government formed on the basis of the elections results, where parties will be represented in the government proportionally depending on their share of the parliament."
For Hamas, however, elections would provide an answer to a dilemma of contested legitimacy. "Elections would reflect who represents the majority of the Palestinian public, we want to display our agenda to the Palestinian street to choose if they approve of our program or that of Mahmoud Abbas' collaboration with Israel," Hamas co-founder, Dr Mahmoud Zahar, said.
"Whoever wants to speak on behalf of the Palestinians should first have the right to represent them, and that can only be done through elections."
Despite their different hopes on what elections would produce, Palestinian parties are fearful that the path towards elections will be filled with obstacles and dilemmas, not because of their divisions, but also Israel, which maintains a military occupation of the West Bank and continues to besiege Gaza.
"We are faced by three challenges," Dr Barghouti said. "First is the likelihood of Israel rejecting Palestinian elections in East Jerusalem, and we say that elections should take place in Jerusalem like all other Palestinian territories, and not holding it in Jerusalem is a redline."
Dr Abu Yousef said that the PA has not yet received a clear answer from Israel about the vote taking place in occupied East Jerusalem.
Hamas leader Dr Basim Naim accused President Abbas of using Jerusalem as an excuse for procrastination.
"Our sources indicate that Abbas doesn't really want elections," Dr Zahar said, "Several parties active on the Palestinian issue are warning Abbas against holding elections, out of fear that Hamas would win. Whether Abbas will comply with their advice or take the risk is up to him now."
However, Palestinians shouldn't allow Israel to be the decision-maker over the elections, Dr Barghouti said, saying that "if Israel's rejection persists, we should hold elections despite Israel in the heart of Jerusalem as a form of popular resistance. Israel should learn that it can't prevent democratic elections in the Palestinian territories".
Dr Barghouti said the second challenge is to ensure fairness in the elections amid such deep divisions between rival factions, and fears of political suppression by both sides. The third is to ensure that all sides respect any outcome of the election.
Palestinians factions have been calling for a broad national meeting to discuss such critical issues and others before issuing the elections decree, however, President Abbas deferred those requests until elections are officially announced.
However, Dr Abu Yousef confirmed to The National that "for sure, after the issuance of the presidential decree there will be a meeting between all factions to put our efforts together to succeed with holding elections."
Hamas made a concession of agreeing to hold such a meeting after the presidential decree and not before, according to Dr Zahar.
According to Dr Barghouti, the Palestinian election commission would need about three months after the issuance of the presidential decree to hold elections.
Dr Abu Yousef confirmed that all factions agreed to hold parliamentary and presidential elections within 90 days of any decree issued by Mr Abbas.
Updated: December 19, 2019 07:11 PM
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