Palestinian court postpones long-awaited local elections
October vote had been heralded as first large-scale ballot for Palestinians since 2006; Hamas rejects decision, calling it ‘political’
Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.
A Palestinian court on Thursday postponed municipal elections set for October 8 following disputes between the rival Fatah and Hamas movements over candidate lists, as well the lack of participation of Jerusalem in the vote.
The decision was made by a court in Ramallah in the West Bank, where Fatah is in power.
The Palestinian news agency Ma’an quoted the ruling of the court: “The administrative decision [i.e., the elections] must deal with the homeland as one unit, and with the faltering measures in Jerusalem and the procedural problems in Gaza, the decision was taken to postpone.”
The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
There were several Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem that fielded electoral lists, including Beit Hanina, Abu Dis and Kafr Aqab.
Signs of trouble began emerging last week, when Hamas-controlled courts in Gaza disqualified four Fatah-backed slates of candidates. Five more lists were disqualified this week, meaning Fatah would have been unable to compete in nine of the 25 races.
Fatah protested against the exclusion of its lists, arguing that the judiciary system in Gaza is illegal and the challenges against the lists meant to sabotage the elections.
Hamas, the Islamist movement which runs the Gaza Strip, said it “rejects” the court decision Thursday postponing Palestinian local elections set for October 8, calling it a “political decision.”
The court said it would postpone elections until at least December 21 and would meet again September 21 to discuss the petition.
“This is a political decision,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said of the ruling made in a court in Ramallah, where rival Fatah is in power. “We reject the decision to cancel the election and call on everyone to reject it.”
Hamas boycotted the last Palestinian municipal elections in 2012 but was due to participate this year. The last election both groups participated in was legislative elections in 2006, which Hamas won — sparking a conflict that led to near-civil war in Gaza the following year.
Since the announcement of the elections, Hamas and Fatah have both complained of harassment against their candidates and political activists in territory under their rival’s control.
While there was some pressure within Fatah to cancel the elections for fear of a Hamas win, senior party officials told The Times of Israel they planned for elections to go on as planned.
Additionally, Munir al-Jaghoub, who heads Fatah’s Information Department in the Office Fatah, denied his party had any influence over the decision. He pointed out that the decision was the result of a complaint by lawyer Nael al-Houh, a member of the Palestinian Bar Association.
This year’s vote was planned with 81-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas under heavy political pressure as opinion polls suggested most Palestinians would like him to step down.
Some Palestinians saw the saw the local election as paving the way toward a long overdue presidential vote.
AFP and AP contributed to this report.