While over the past 15 years, legislative elections were at best, it became irregular, and then completely absent, however, Palestinians still have hope that local elections will eventually culminate in national elections.
This is especially true since local elections are intrinsically linked to the Palestinian psyche as a means of defiance to the will of the Israeli occupation, which has been trying to impose municipal elections on the people since 1976.
Islamic Hamas and Secular Fatah, the two dominant Palestinian factions and political rivals have not competed in the ballot box for more than a decade. However, in the absence of elections, the claim by either movement to command a stronger following among Palestinians remains impossible to substantiate. According to a Palestinian public opinion poll of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) last October, about 71% of Palestinians in the West Bank believe that people in their area cannot criticise the Fatah controlled PA without fear, whereas in the Gaza Strip, 62% say people in their area cannot criticise Hamas’s authority without fear.
The local election doesn’t reflect Hamas or Fateh’s popularity
This round of elections is very important as Palestinians suffer from limited democracy and internal geographical and political division between Fatah and Hamas. Each of these factions is entrenched in its own territory—Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip—where it exercises authority. It is hoped that these elections, which have not been held for 15 years, will revive democracy, lead to proper governance, and end the internal division.
Moreover, according to veteran Palestinian pollster and political analyst Khalil Shikaki, the individuals who ran in a given town or village were names favored by the large families living there. “In many ways, this election was a victory for the large families,” he said. “Of the names we have seen, about 40 percent of the winners came from large families.” Some of these families are large enough that they posted candidates for more than one party, seeking to maximize the number of family members voted into a given local council.
This suggests that local clans are likely to remain, important power brokers, when it comes to making local decisions. Hafez Barghouti, the editor of the PA-affiliated Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, reportedly said, “This is not about the Oslo agreement or the road map; it is about who offers services for the people.”
Abbas’s fading Palestinian support
Since the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on April 30th officially postponed the scheduled vote for the legislative elections, citing the Israeli authority’s refusal to allow elections in East Jerusalem, his support has been fading among the Palestinian public. Many believe this calling off by Abbas was because of the divisions in Fatah’s faction, his fear of losing power and his unpopularity in the polls. According to polls, competing Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti would have been able to win over Abbas despite sitting for nearly two decades in an Israeli prison. Continuing arrests of dissidents by the PA after the postponement of the elections planned for May 2020, have spread fear in Palestinian society. The drop-in support for Abbas was sharpened also after the wave of protests against the PA in the West Bank sparked by Banat’s case. Since then, the PA and its ruling Fatah-party have only slowly regained support.
Call for the Israeli Authority to allow for the full democratic participation of Palestinians
A major problem in the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections is that the environment in which elections can be held in the West Bank and Gaza is not conducive to democratic elections in accordance with internationally accepted democratic principles. For years, people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have suffered from factional repression, persecution and prosecutions. Elections in any society that believes in a democracy are not subject to the requirements of such political power. It is the right of all political forces to put their programmes before the elector. Hens, it is the right of the elector to choose who he sees as best able to achieve his goals and aspirations, not to surrender to the strongest.
The Palestinian elections represent a tremendous opportunity to renew the democratic process, address long-term internal political divisions, strengthen accountable institutions and take an important step towards the realisation of the basic national and individual rights of the Palestinian people.
In fact, the Oslo Accords oblige Israel to allow a small number of Palestinians living in the eastern section of what Israel considers its undivided capital to participate in Palestinian elections. The 1995 Oslo II agreement states, in Annex II, Article VI, Section 2: “A number of Palestinians of Jerusalem will vote in the elections through services rendered in post offices in Jerusalem, in accordance with the capacity of such post offices.”
In this context, GRW calls on the occupation authorities to state clearly that it will allow for the full democratic participation of Palestinians in East Jerusalem in the elections to be held. The occupation’s interference with Palestinian rights and daily lives must be very limited.