The Hamas terror group announced on Wednesday afternoon that it would boycott municipal elections called by the Palestinian Authority unless Palestinian presidential and legislative votes were set as well.
“The PA’s announcement of piecemeal local elections is an insult to our national situation, and a deviation from our nation’s path. Hamas will not be a part of it,” Hamas spokesperson Hazim Qasim told reporters during a press conference in Gaza City.
The Palestinian Authority called the local vote against the backdrop of increasing domestic criticism, in part for indefinitely delaying the first planned national elections in 15 years in April.
According to Palestinian election officials, the municipal vote will be held in two stages. The first ballots will be held in 387 villages across the West Bank on December 11 while another 90 major towns and cities will vote at a later date.
Hamas would only agree to participate in the local elections should the Palestinians see a return to elections at every level, from the over-arching Palestine Liberation Organization to the town councils, Qasim said.
“Hamas is ready to join comprehensive, simultaneous elections, according to a fixed timeline…These should include the [PLO] National Council, the legislature, the presidency, labor unions and student councils,” Qasim said.
Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks Israel’s destruction, has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. The Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, is largely controlled by its Fatah rivals.
Palestinians were scheduled to hold the first national legislative and presidential elections in over a decade and a half in May and July, respectively. Hamas supported the vote in a bid to increase its standing among Palestinians and gain a foothold in the West Bank.
But PA President Mahmoud Abbas delayed the elections in April, blaming Israeli silence on whether or not East Jerusalem Palestinians would be able to vote in the contested capital. Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Observers said Abbas abandoned the elections due to fears of defeat by rivals within his own Fatah movement and by Hamas. Abbas is unpopular among the Palestinian public, according to polling; although his term as president ended in 2009, he has continued to rule by emergency executive decree.
Palestinian town councils are legally elected to four-year terms. But those votes have also fallen casualty to the long-running rift between Fatah and Hamas. The Islamist group has boycotted every local election since the 2007 rift between the two Palestinian movements.
As a result, only West Bank municipalities have seen elections in recent years. Hamas has not allowed local elections to take place in Gaza. Should Hamas continue to boycott this round of elections, it would again be unlikely that Gazans would participate.
“Holding elections in the Gaza Strip requires political approval from Hamas,” Palestinian elections commissioner Hana Nasir said in a statement last week.
Fatah criticized Hamas’s refusal to participate, blaming the terror group for the lack of elections in Gaza.
“Any talk by Hamas of democracy and elections is political hypocrisy, as they have prevented any elections in Gaza for 15 years,” Fatah spokesperson Mounir al-Jaghoub said in a statement.
Islamic Jihad has also said it will likely boycott the planned vote, as in previous years.
“Any elections under occupation are a joke,” the Iran-backed terror group said in a statement.