The Palestinian Authority will hold presidential elections within one to two years following a series of political steps, a senior Palestinian official told The Times of Israel on Thursday, predicting an end to an impasse that has left PA President Mahmoud Abbas in power for seven years beyond his official term.
Muhammad al-Madani, a senior aide to Abbas and a Fatah Central Committee member, said upcoming municipal elections, the first since 2005, will be a key test in determining whether Palestinians can go ahead with a national poll.
Abbas, who is now 81-years-old and into his 11th year of what was meant to be a four-year presidential term, will only decide if he will run in the next Palestinian elections after the Fatah General Congress and Palestinian National Council summit, Madani said.
For Palestinian leaders to decide to call new elections, the October 8 municipal elections would need go smoothly, Fatah would have to hold its general congress, tentatively scheduled for the end of the year, and the PNC would need to convene.
Madani, who is the head of the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, said the whole process should take place within two years.
“The municipal elections are being held to pave the way for democracy in our nation,” he said.
Palestinian politics have been fraught with deep partisan fissures which have seemingly worsened over the years, despite efforts to reconcile Abbas’s Fatah movement with the rival Islamist Hamas organization. Their rivalry turned deadly when Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2006, ousting Fatah from the Strip.
The municipal elections are seen as a key step forward for Palestinian democracy, but could deal a heavy blow to Fatah, which still controls the West Bank.
Hamas boycotted municipal elections in 2012, and Abbas had been thought to have been caught unaware after the faction, considered a terror group by Israel and much of the West, said it would participate in October’s vote.
But Madani said the Palestinian Authority president had always planned for Hamas, which he called an “integral” part of the Palestinian people, to participate in the municipal elections. He expressed certainty that Fatah would emerge from the polls victorious.
Still, Madani also confirmed that there is some pressure from within Fatah to cancel the elections, amid fears Hamas could win a majority of councils in the West Bank.
Israeli officials are also concerned that Hamas will sweep the West Bank voting, thereby undermining the legitimacy of the PA, according to reports. But Madani said there is no plan by Abbas to cancel the elections.
He added that Abbas saw Hamas inclusion in the elections as a step toward bringing the group into the fold on moribund peace talks.
Israel rejects negotiating with Hamas and protested in 2014 after Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement with the terror group.
“Through these [municipal] elections, President Abbas hopes a normal political situation will return to the people,” Madani said.
Fatah has recently been closing its ranks, after division within the party led to election failures to Hamas in 2005 and 2006.
Key to that effort will be the Fatah General Congress, where the party holds internal elections for its two powerful bodies the Central Committee and Revolutionary Council as well as sets the agenda for the party.
The PNC is the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and elects its Executive Committee.
The Fatah General Congress last convened in 2009. A gathering scheduled for 2014 has been postponed several times, and there is a possibility the party’s leadership meeting could face future delays.