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Fatah and Hamas agree on terms of 1st Palestinian election in 15 years

Deal reached at Cairo summit between 14 factions; Palestinians are skeptical that the vote will be held at all, as election promises have fallen through before

Palestinian faction leaders gather to discuss holding Palestinian national elections, in Cairo on February 8, 2021 (WAFA)
Palestinian faction leaders gather to discuss holding Palestinian national elections, in Cairo on February 8, 2021 (WAFA)

Fourteen Palestinian factions attending a summit in Cairo announced on Tuesday night that they have reached an agreement that would set the guidelines for the first Palestinian national elections in nearly 15 years.

Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub said in a statement that the rival Fatah and Hamas factions had reached “understandings” that would allow them to move forward with the election process.

“I tell the Palestinians, trust what we have achieved,” Rajoub, who led his movement’s delegation to the Cairo summit, told reporters after the talks concluded.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree in mid-January ordering three successive rounds of Palestinian national elections. The first round — for the currently defunct Palestinian legislature — is set to be held on May 22.

Observers are skeptical, however, that elections will actually take place. Abbas has vowed to hold elections several times since his four-year term ostensibly expired in 2009. However, repeated attempts to hold votes for president and parliament have flopped, largely due to the mistrust between rivals Fatah and terror group Hamas, and their inability to agree on terms.

Illustrative: Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, attends by video conference a meeting with deputy Hamas chief Saleh al-Arouri (unseen) on July 2, 2020. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said in a statement that all sides have agreed on procedures for establishing an independent election court and securing free and fair elections.

ِAl-Hayya added that the Palestinian factions will return to Cairo in March for further discussions regarding elections for the pan-Palestinian Palestine Liberation Organization.

The agreement announced on Monday night commits all sides to the immediate release of political prisoners and to allow members of the other faction to campaign in their territory. Both Fatah and Hamas have regularly cracked down on activity by the other movement in areas they administer.

The sides agreed to “guarantee the right to political and national action for all Palestinian factions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and stop the prosecution of citizens on the grounds of political affiliation or opinion,” per the declaration.

The agreement also called for the appointment of an election court with members from Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. The court, which will certify the election’s results and resolve disputes, was one of the talks’ most contentious facets.

Before his defeat in 2006, Abbas effectively drained an independent court of its powers to constrain the presidency. Critics of the Palestinian Authority president — and his Hamas rivals — had expressed concern that he might do so again.

“This court and no other shall investigate the electoral process and its results and every issue which results from it,” the declaration stated.

Another key issue taken up by the participants was whose security forces would oversee the polling stations. Both Fatah and Hamas regard each other’s police as illegitimate. But the declaration is vague on this issue, only saying that “the Palestinian police in their official garb” will protect those voting in the West Bank and Gaza.

A Palestinian official present at the talks did not respond to a request for comment.

Hamas’s victory in the 2006 parliamentary vote led to a brief, tense unity government between the two sides. The international community boycotted the government, with many countries refusing to work with the terror group.

Tensions between the two sides exploded into open war in 2007, leading to a bloody struggle for control of the Gaza Strip. Fatah lost and was largely expelled from the coastal enclave to the West Bank, where Abbas announced an emergency government by executive fiat.

Since 2007, two rival Palestinian governments have held sway in the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas’s Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority enjoys limited self-rule in the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.

File: Hamas’s then-new deputy leader Salah al-Arouri (seated, left) and Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad (seated, right) sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements work to end their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

Several reconciliation agreements since then have fallen through, and unlike in previous election pushes, no reconciliation agreement preceded this election decree.

“We have tried to make agreements for reconciliation before doing elections — in 2011, in 2014, in 2017. It did not succeed, so we’re trying something else,” senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Ahmad al-Majdalani told The Times of Israel after the election announcement in January.

In his remarks following the Cairo conference on Monday, Rajoub told reporters that the ultimate goal was a unity government of “all Palestinian factions.”

“We need these elections, because without them we will simply be heading in vicious circles,” Rajoub said.

Fatah officials have previously said Hamas’s participation in any Palestinian government would depend on the terror group’s adoption of the PLO platform, which renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to live in peace and security. Hamas, which avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, has yet to signal any intention to adopt the platform.

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