Officials in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party have reportedly called on him to cancel upcoming municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, fearing that rival jihadist group Hamas will secure an overwhelming victory.
Fatah and Hamas are locked in a high-stakes struggle ahead of the October 8 vote. Abbas’s Fatah movement currently holds power in the West Bank, where he heads the Palestinian Authority, while Hamas has ruled Gaza since it ousted Fatah in a bloody 2007 coup. A year earlier, in elections for the Palestinian parliament, Hamas won 74 of 132 seats, and Fatah just 45.
Channel 2 television reported Friday that leading Fatah officials have told Abbas that they face defeat to Hamas in the West Bank and that this will mean “the destruction” of Fatah.
The report also said that members of the PA security forces are trying to intimidate some Hamas candidates in the West Bank into ending their election bids. Candidate lists are due to close in the coming days.
Israel is also concerned that Hamas will sweep the West Bank voting, thereby undermining the legitimacy of the PA, Channel 2 said.
Officials close to Abbas earlier this week accused the Israeli leadership of hoping for a Hamas win. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman “are convinced we are going to lose and thus want these elections,” the officials told The Times of Israel. “They desire a victory for Hamas, as this would prove their allegations that there is no one to talk to” on the Palestinian side, they said.
Despite concerns that Hamas could make significant gains in the polls, and with Hamas recently threatening to boycott the elections over the arrests of its members in the West Bank, those officials said there was no intention of canceling or postponing the voting.
“Fatah has a reasonable chance of winning,” the officials told The Times of Israel. “The decision to go to the polls has tightened the ranks, and we are working intensely to prevent any splits or internal conflicts.”
Fatah sources noted, with some surprise, that even those Fatah politicians affiliated with longtime Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan appeared intent on maintaining unity, in order to bolster the party’s chances to defeat Hamas.
According to local opinion polls and political experts, Hamas — which has been enjoying unusual popularity in the West Bank and maintains a strong base of support in Gaza — is expected to make significant gains in the upcoming elections for local councils.
Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report