Palestinian local polls postponed, no new date set

Court pushes off ruling on candidate lists disputed by rival factions Fatah and Hamas

Palestinians demonstrate in front of the High Court in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 21, 2016, calling on authorities not to postpone the local elections. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)
Palestinians demonstrate in front of the High Court in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 21, 2016, calling on authorities not to postpone the local elections. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)

Palestinian municipal polls scheduled for October 8 were postponed on Wednesday after a court delayed a ruling on whether to hold the first vote since 2006 to include both Fatah and Hamas.

The Palestinian high court in the Fatah-led West Bank put off its ruling until October 3, only five days before the scheduled date for the elections.

Two weeks of campaigning are usually allotted for Palestinian elections and had been set to begin on Friday.

In response, the electoral commission confirmed that the October 8 date “is no longer applicable.” It set no new date.

On September 8, the court suspended the elections following disputes between the rival Fatah and Hamas movements over candidate lists.

It had left open the possibility that they could be re-scheduled for the same date if the dispute was resolved, but Wednesday’s announcement by the electoral commission was widely anticipated.

Gaza-ruling Hamas, considered a terror group by Israel and other Western countries, boycotted the last Palestinian municipal elections in 2012, but it was due to participate this year.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Wednesday’s court ruling amounted to “a cancellation of the electoral process.”

Fatah and Hamas have not contested an election since 2006 parliamentary polls, which Hamas won — sparking a conflict that led to near civil war in Gaza the following year.

Abu Zuhri called the latest move a Fatah ploy “to escape (new) elections.”

This year’s vote was planned with 81-year-old president Mahmud Abbas under heavy political pressure as opinion polls have suggested most Palestinians would like him to step down.

There has been no Palestinian presidential election since 2005 and Abbas has remained in office despite the expiry of his term.

Some analysts saw Abbas’s decision to call the elections as a failed gambit since he may have been hoping Hamas would repeat its 2012 boycott.

Abbas is currently in New York ahead of his UN General Assembly address on Thursday.

Aftermath of 2006 polls

Despite repeated reconciliation attempts, Hamas and Fatah have failed to bridge their differences and form a unified administration for the Palestinian territories.

The October vote was to choose municipal councils in some 416 cities and towns in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

It is seen by some analysts as a test of whether Hamas and Fatah can take a significant step towards reconciliation.

Their divisions are viewed as among the key obstacles in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, at a standstill for more than two years.

The Palestinian parliament has not met since 2007, the year Hamas, buoyed by its 2006 election victory, seized the Gaza Strip by force, driving out Fatah in a week of deadly clashes.

Hamas caused a shock by winning the majority of seats in the 2006 polls, which were seen by some as the most transparent to be held in the Palestinian territories.

But the international community refused to accept a Hamas government, demanding the Islamist group first renounce violence, recognize Israel, and respect agreements signed between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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