The leaders of Palestinian political factions will gather in the coming days to decide whether they will hold legislative elections as planned, given that Israel does not seem likely to permit voting in East Jerusalem, a senior Palestinian official said on Wednesday.
“There will be an expanded meeting of the leadership to assess the situation,” senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Ahmad Majdalani said. “As part of that assessment, we will make a decision regarding the elections.”
Majdalani said that the leaders of Palestinian factions would meet in the West Bank soon to discuss the matter. A similar meeting was held in Ramallah in September 2020, with Palestinian leaders attending by video conference from Beirut and Gaza City.
The Palestinians are scheduled to head to their first national vote in 15 years on May 22. Hamas won the last legislative elections in 2006, leading to gridlock, strife and a civil war between the terror group and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement in Gaza. Hamas now controls Gaza, while Fatah has limited self-rule in the West Bank.
But reports in recent days have indicated Abbas could seek to delay or cancel the elections. A senior Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Kan news on Wednesday that there was a “90 percent” chance that the elections would be delayed.
Officials in Ramallah have said the vote will not take place without the participation of East Jerusalem Palestinians. Israel cracks down on Palestinian Authority activity inside Jerusalem, considering it a violation of Israeli sovereignty in its capital.
Israel has yet to say whether it will permit voting in East Jerusalem. The Oslo Accords, a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, stipulate that Palestinians can vote at designated post offices throughout the contested capital.
But Israel resists Palestinian Authority activity in Jerusalem, which it views as a violation of its sovereignty. In 2006 — the last time the Palestinians went to a national vote — the United States and the international community pressured Israel into allowing it.
“Right now, the pressures are not as they ought to be, especially those of the US administration, which played an important role in the 2006 elections,” Majdalani said.
Abbas’s opponents have charged in recent days that the widely unpopular PA president, fearful of political defeat, is using Israel’s refusal to back away from holding the vote. Abbas’s Fatah movement faces stark internal divisions, leading to fears of a loss to its Hamas rivals.
At the end of March, immensely popular Palestinian terror convict Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah member, joined forces with longtime Abbas critic and Fatah dissident Nasser al-Kidwa to form the so-called “Freedom List” to contest Abbas in the coming vote.
Abbas’s office has sought to dispel reports that Ramallah will delay the legislative vote.
“The elections will happen on schedule,” longtime Abbas spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said on Wednesday.
Majdalani defended the possibility that elections would be delayed as a patriotic refusal to accept Israeli control over East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope will be the capital of their future state.
“No Palestinian would accept the bartering of Jerusalem for the election. Jerusalem is a national cause,” Majdalani said. “It is not a technical matter.”
The Palestinian Central Elections Commission said on Monday that most East Jerusalem residents would be able to vote regardless of whether Israel allows voting to take place inside the city — at polling stations on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
As rumors of the vote’s impending delay swirled, senior Hamas officials criticized what they deemed to be a capitulation to Israel.
“The Palestinian elections are a national right which must be achieved. The elections in Jerusalem are a battle with the occupation, much like the rest of the battles in which we have imposed our will against the occupier. The decision on the electoral process should in no way be the decision of the occupiers,” said senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk on Wednesday.
Other Fatah members also criticized the alleged attempt to delay the elections. Candidates on the Barghouti and al-Kidwa’s Freedom urged Abbas to go forward with the vote.
“If Israel says it won’t allow our elections, let’s go to the vote. We’ll watch them literally prevent them, on the ground, and stop the vote. We will not ask them for permission or submit to their will,” Freedom candidate Serhan Dweikat, a former major in the Palestinian Authority security services, told The Times of Israel in a phone call.
Dweikat held out little hope that the elections would be held. The current Palestinian leadership, he indicated, was not fully in control of the situation.
“The Palestinian Authority is besieged. There’s international pressure, Israeli pressure. The current leadership is totally powerless, and I expect there will be a popular response rejecting the decision [should the elections be canceled],” Dweikat said.