A number of Fatah prisoners have sent a letter to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, asking that he delay the Palestinian legislative elections in light of increasing divisions within Abbas’s Fatah movement, a Fatah official confirmed on Saturday.
Senior Fatah official Qaddura Fares, who directs the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, confirmed the letter to The Times of Israel. The letter was first reported in the Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
“A number of prisoners — not the entire movement of prisoners — sent a letter calling for the elections be delayed by a short period,” said Fares, who is number 7 on Fatah’s parliamentary list for the upcoming vote.
Abbas announced in mid-January that the Palestinians would head to their first elections in over 15 years. Palestinians last headed to the ballot box in the 2006 legislative elections, which led Hamas to a landslide victory over Abbas’s Fatah movement.
Many observers were skeptical of Abbas’s January decree, but three months later, the elections have yet to be canceled. Palestinians are scheduled to head to legislative elections on May 22 and then to presidential elections on July 31.
But the Fatah party has seen increasing internal dissent as the elections have progressed. In addition to Abbas’s list, Fatah members have split off to form Freedom, a slate of candidates fielded by popular Palestinian prisoner Marwan al-Barghouti, and Future, which is backed by former Fatah security chief and bitter Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan.
The turmoil within Fatah has led to concerns that vote-splitting could again lead Hamas to deal it a resounding defeat, much like in 2006. In those elections, a highly disciplined Hamas trounced an internally divided Fatah.
Fares said the letter sought to advance “a Fatah initiative, to fix the crisis in Fatah… to create consensus within Fatah and close the ranks” in advance of the coming elections.
A spokesperson for the Palestinian Presidency did not respond to a request for comment.
Asked to clarify his stance on the letter’s demands, Fares said that it would be wrong to delay the Palestinian elections purely for Fatah’s sake.
“Things are truly difficult in Fatah right now. But for the election to be delayed for Fatah’s sake — I reject this. Not only do I reject this, Palestinian law rejects this, the various [other] factions would reject this,” said Fares.
Observers have speculated that Abbas — fearing a potential loss to either his Fatah challengers or to a Hamas bolstered by internal Fatah divisions — will seek to delay or even cancel the vote.
Abbas could delay or cancel the vote by blaming Israel for refusing to allow the Palestinians to hold elections in East Jerusalem. Palestinian officials have regularly said that there will be no Palestinian elections unless Israel permits them to be conducted in East Jerusalem — a request Israel is unlikely to grant.
Israeli police were said to detain three Palestinian candidates for parliament in East Jerusalem on Saturday afternoon as they sought to hold a “consultative meeting” ahead of the Palestinian elections.
It is the second time in less than a month that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian candidates seeking to hold PA election events in the capital. Israel bans Palestinian Authority activity in both West and East Jerusalem, viewing it as a violation of Israeli sovereignty.
A spokesperson for the Israel Police’s Jerusalem division did not respond to a request for comment.
“They closed the entrances to the hotel, stopped us by the side of the road, and detained me and my colleagues. They said ‘you’re doing illegal things,'” Fatah candidate Nasser al-Qaws said in a phone call.
Al-Qaws vowed that East Jerusalem Palestinian candidates for the Palestinian parliament would continue to attempt to hold public election meetings despite the arrests.