Friday March 5th 2021
Following an agreement between Fatah and Hamas the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has announced that elections will take place on May 22 2021 for the Palestinian parliament (the Palestine Legislative Council) and on July 31 for the Presidency. There will be an election in August for the Palestine Liberation Organisation which represents all Palestinian including refugees living abroad.
The last national elections in Palestine were in 2006. Hamas, fighting an election for the first time, were the surprise winners. Many commentators said it was a vote against the Fatah old guard, accused of being out of touch and sometimes corrupt, rather than a positive vote for the policies of Hamas. Fatah were not helped by rival Fatah lists splitting the vote in some areas. Since 2006 there have only been municipal elections where support has see-sawed regularly between Fatah and Hamas.
There have alfready been three agreements to hold national elections which then collapsed. But this time both sides seem to be serious, perhaps because Palestinians realise they have to make progress or they may miss the opportunity presented by a Biden administration.
But organising national elections poses enormous political and logistical problems, leaving aside Covid-19. People have to be able to vote in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, in East Jerusalem under Israeli control and in Gaza under Hamas rule.
The UK government can help in three ways:
- Persuade the Israelis to let people vote in Jerusalem. There are 350,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu has said he is against allowing them to vote. In 2006 they were able to vote in a post office in Jerusalem, but only after pressure from the US President George Bush.
- Persuade the Israelis to allow international election observers to enter Gaza. The 2006 elections were adjudged free and fair by international observers in the West Bank and Gaza. It will require Israeli agreement for them to be allowed into Gaza this time.
- Announce in advance that it will accept the result of the election. It was the refusal of the UK and other Western countries to accept the result of the 2006 election or even to talk to Hamas that led to the split and the Hamas take-over of Gaza and the 14-year blockade and the deep suspicion that still exists between the two parties. Have we learnt the lesson? Or will we do the same thing again?
Recent polling has Fatah leading in the parliamentary elections by 38 to 34%, but also Fatah losing the presidency by 43 to 50% if their candidate is the 85-year-old president Mahmoud Abbas against the Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh. However, if Fateh’s candidate were the prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh against Haniyeh, they would tie on 47% each. And if the jailed Fatah politician Marwan Barghouti stood in the election – as it has been reported he is considering – he is predicted to beat Haniyyeh and Abbas either separately or together. In every case Fatah would win more support in the West Bank and Hamas would win more in Gaza, but Barghouti is the only candidate who currently polls strong support in both. Maybe it’s a good thing that the two main parties are so evenly poised as each party’s belief that it could win will make them more likely to overcome all the logistical difficulties that present themselves.
The parliamentary election will be held under a new electoral system with a single national list for the whole country, as in Israel. In the 2006 election Hamas won one seat more than Fatah in the national list but that turned into a 29-seat majority as a result of the district lists where Fatah shot itself in the foot by allowing rival Fatah lists to stand in some areas.
This time both parties have welcomed the election and supported the new electoral system. There has been widespread speculation that they might even agree on a joint Fatah-Hamas list, which will make it far more certain that the election will go ahead, but will give the voters less effective choice. None of the other parties won more than three seats in the 2006 election.
Fatah is a secular party which sees itself both as a national liberation movement and a party of the left with links to social-democratic parties in Europe. Hamas is an Islamic party with links to the Muslim Brotherhood and a more recent history of armed resistance, though in the last few years it has been sporadically restraining other armed groups and its own fighters to enforce a Gaza ceasefire.
Public Opinion Poll No (78) 27 December 2020 Palestinian Centre for Policy and Social Research http://www.pcpsr.org/en