The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday suspended municipal elections until further notice, a day after the PA’s High Court ruled that the upcoming vote could only go ahead in the West Bank and not the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
In the wake of the court decision, the Palestinian Central Elections Commission on Monday had urged PA President Mahmoud Abbas to delay the municipal elections by at least six months.
The commission said a delay would be “in the Palestinian interest” in light of the ruling, which ended hopes of the first municipal elections since 2006 that included both Hamas and the Fatah-dominated PA. Hamas won those elections, sparking a conflict that led to near-civil war in Gaza the following year.
“The court orders the implementation of the government’s decision on the holding of local elections,” court president Hisham al-Hatoo ruled Monday before a packed courtroom in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, later Tuesday praised the decision to postpone the elections, saying that the vote should be held across the Palestinian territories simultaneously and calling for Palestinian unity.
“I welcome today’s decision to postpone local elections. It is in the national interest of the Palestinian people that when such elections take place, they be organized both in the West Bank and Gaza,” Mladenov said in a statement released to the media.
“I urge all Palestinian bodies to work together in good faith to overcome internal divisions and uphold democracy,” he added.
Hamas boycotted the last Palestinian municipal elections in 2012, but had been due to participate this year. It called Monday’s court decision “discriminatory” and said it “ratifies the division” between Gaza, which it rules, and the West Bank, which is dominated by Abbas’s rival Fatah movement.
The elections to choose municipal councils in some 416 cities and towns in Gaza and the West Bank had initially been set for October 8. But a Palestinian court last month delayed the elections until at least December 21 due to disputes between Fatah and Hamas over candidate lists, as well the lack of participation of Jerusalem in the vote.
Hamas has been the sole ruler of the Gaza Strip since it booted out Fatah in a bloody 2007 coup. The two rival Palestinian factions have been at loggerheads ever since, despite numerous unsuccessful efforts at reconciliation.
According to local opinion polls and political experts, Hamas — which has been enjoying unusual popularity in the West Bank and remains well-supported in Gaza — had been expected to make significant gains in the elections.
AFP contributed to this report