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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Palestinian factions are cautiously optimistic about holding long overdue national elections after all sides gave their approval to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in November, officials say.
Dr Wasel Abu Yousef, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, told The National that the Palestinian Authority led by Mr Abbas is starting preparations to ensure successful elections.
The last Palestinian vote was in 2005.
"We are persistent to hold elections and will continue to press for it," Dr Mustafa Al Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative and Mr Abbas's main opponent in the 2005 elections.
"It's our people's right and not a decision in the hands of political factions. 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.
"Elections would be a pathway to end intra-Palestinian division because a unified legislative council would emerge from it."
Dr Abu Yousef agreed that elections could achieve national unity after the failure of reconciliation agreements to end the 13-year Palestinian division between Hamas, rulers of Gaza, and Mr Abbas's Fatah in the occupied West Bank.
Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have been at loggerheads since the faction took control of Gaza in 2007 and ousted Fatah from the coastal enclave.
Dr Al Barghouti said he was leading efforts to end the division through elections by calling for "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, the elections would provide legitimacy.
"Elections would reflect who represents the majority of the Palestinian public," said Hamas co-founder Dr Mahmoud Zahar.
"We want to display our agenda to the Palestinian street to choose if they approve of our program or that of Mahmoud Abbas's collaboration with Israel.
"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 fear Israel could fill the path to a vote with obstacles.
Dr Al Barghouti said problems included the likelihood of Israel rejecting Palestinian elections in East Jerusalem.
"We say that elections should take place in Jerusalem like all other Palestinian territories, and not holding it in Jerusalem is a red line," he said.
Dr Abu Yousef said that the PA had not yet received a clear answer from Israel about the vote taking place in occupied East Jerusalem.
Hamas leader Dr Basim Naim accused Mr 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."
But Palestinians should not allow Israel to make decisions about the elections, Dr Al Barghouti said.
"If Israel's rejection persists, we should hold elections despite Israel in the heart of Jerusalem as a form of popular resistance," he said.
"Israel should learn that it can't prevent democratic elections in the Palestinian territories."
Dr Al Barghouti said another challenge was ensuring fairness in the elections amid such deep divisions between rival factions, and fears of political suppression by both sides.
A third was 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.
But Mr Abbas deferred the requests until elections were 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, Dr Zahar said.
Dr Al Barghouti said 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 20, 2019 02:26 AM
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