After reconciliation talks in Istanbul earlier this week, the Fatah and Hamas movements said Thursday they had agreed to hold general Palestinian elections within the next six months.
Similar announcements of planned elections have fallen through in the past, largely due to long-running conflict between Fatah and Hamas. If the vote goes forward, however, it would be the first Palestinian national election in fourteen years.
Fatah Secretary General Jibril Rajoub, who led Fatah’s delegation to the Turkish capital, said in a statement that the proposal would be submitted to a joint meeting of Palestinian faction heads within a week.
Under the proposal, elections would first be held for the Palestinian legislature, then for the Palestinian Authority presidency, and finally for the central council of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank, while the Hamas terror group rules the Gaza Strip.
“We are waiting for [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas to call the faction heads to endorse the principle and implement appropriate procedures, beginning with issuing a presidential decree,” Rajoub said.
Palestinian legislative elections have not been held since 2006, when a Hamas victory over Fatah led to a bloody struggle for control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas expelled Fatah to the West Bank in 2007, after which the Palestinian Legislative Council essentially ceased to function.
Several rounds of reconciliation talks in different Arab capitals have failed to end the split between the two movements, which remain divided by ideological disputes and a violent history.
The most recent unity push began when Rajoub and Hamas deputy Saleh al-Arouri announced that they would coordinate “joint action” in response to Israel’s now-suspended plans to annex parts of the West Bank. The cooperation never materialized on the ground, however, and a planned Abbas speech at a rally in Gaza was quietly dropped.
In response to the United Arab Emirates’ decision to normalize ties with Israel, a rare meeting of Palestinian faction heads was held earlier in September. One after the other, the leaders of 14 major Palestinian groups spoke, including both Abbas and Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.
“We will work to end division, achieve reconciliation, and hold general legislative elections… Know that we are one people,” Abbas said in a speech opening the meeting.
Since then, both major Palestinian movements have lauded what they deem publicly to be an era of good feeling between the two groups.
“The positive atmosphere of dialogue in Istanbul… resurrects the hope of reaching reconciliation and turning the page on division,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said late Wednesday night.
وفد فتح و حماس في تركيا pic.twitter.com/G1i2JseTrr
— حركة فتح (@fatehorg) September 24, 2020
But several similar announcements that Palestinians would return to the ballot box have fizzled out over the past 13 years. Local municipal elections have been held in the West Bank three times, with Hamas largely boycotting the proceedings.
The most recent attempt at national elections — which began in late December 2019 — broke down when Ramallah insisted that the vote would not be held without East Jerusalem Palestinians being given the right to participate.
East Jerusalemites are citizens neither of Israel nor of the Palestinian Authority; instead, they hold permanent Israeli residency cards which only entitle them to vote in Jerusalem municipal elections. While Israel says it offers them a path to Israeli citizenship, relatively few applications have been approved.
Israel reportedly ignored the PA’s request in 2019. The Israeli government bans the PA from operating inside the Israeli capital and has cracked down on its activity there in the last few years. Ramallah’s Jerusalem governor Adnan al-Ghaith has been arrested well over a dozen times by Israeli authorities for his activities inside the city.
Fatah Central Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad told Turkish Anadolu News Agency on Thursday that no elections would be held unless East Jerusalem Palestinians are allowed to participate, indicating that elections could founder upon the same rock they did in January.