Palestinian rivals Fatah, Hamas set to meet in Cairo to discuss elections

Abbas brushes off rumors that he intends to postpone national elections despite widening rifts in Fatah, while Hamas official says Israel has asked Fatah for delay

Hamas's new deputy leader Salah al-Arouri (seated, left) and Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad (seated, right) sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements work to end their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)
Hamas's new deputy leader Salah al-Arouri (seated, left) and Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad (seated, right) sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements work to end their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas are set to hold a second round of talks in Cairo on Tuesday, as they move forward with plans to hold Palestinian elections.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree in mid-January ordering three successive rounds of Palestinian national elections. If they are held, they will be the first national vote the Palestinians have seen in 15 years.

Abbas’s decree set the parliamentary and presidential votes for May 22 and July 31, respectively. If held, they will be the first elections since the 2006 legislative vote, which saw Fatah lose to Hamas in a landslide.

Observers are skeptical, however, that elections will actually take place. Abbas has vowed to hold elections several times since his four-year term ostensibly expired in 2009. Repeated attempts to hold votes for president and parliament have flopped, largely due to the mistrust between rivals Fatah and terror group Hamas, and their inability to agree on terms.

As in previous election talks, Hamas’s delegation on Tuesday will be led by deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri, while Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub has been tasked as chief negotiator from his faction.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, hosts by video conference a meeting with deputy Hamas chief Saleh Arouri (on screen from Beirut), discussing Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank, on July 2, 2020. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that controls the Gaza Strip, and Fatah agreed in a previous round of talks in the Egyptian capital in mid-February on an outline of the “mechanisms” under which the elections would be held.

But the outline did not spell out resolutions to the thornier issues that could impede the planned vote. According to Palestinian officials, the sides will discuss some of the obstacles — such as which party’s security forces will guard the polling places — on Tuesday.

“We will discuss which police will protect the ballot boxes, especially in the Gaza Strip. We have suggested that the [Palestinian Authority] police cooperate with the Hamas-run Gaza police,” senior Fatah official Mundhir al-Hayek told the Ma’an News Agency.

As the elections have neared, the cracks in Abbas’s Fatah movement have grown wider, leading to speculation that the aging PA chairman will not risk allowing the vote.

Much as in 2006, Abbas’s Fatah movement is deeply divided, and the long-serving president faces rivals at every turn: jailed Palestinian terror convict Marwan Barghouti, Emirates-backed Mohammad Dahlan, and former PA chairman Yasser Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Qidwa, who has emerged as a harsh critic of Abbas.

In recent weeks, senior officials in Fatah have taken shots at one another on social media. A highly publicized visit by senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh to Barghouti — reportedly in an attempt to convince him not to run — seemed not to succeed.

Last week, Abbas expelled former al-Qidwa from Fatah. Al-Qidwa had publicly stated his intention of supporting a separate election slate in the legislative elections and called for “radical change” in the Palestinian political system.

On Monday, the Palestinian Authority announced that they would also cease to fund the Yasser Arafat Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to memorializing the legacy of the former PLO chairman, which Al-Qidwa directs.

Nasser al-Kidwa, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee and the nephew of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, addresses a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 23, 2019, against a backdrop showing Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock mosque, to comment on a decision by an Israeli court to issue a temporary lien for a plot of land belonging to Arafat in East Jerusalem. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

“This is a temporary decision, which will not damage the employees of the institution. The goal is to prevent the exploitation of the institution for personal goals,” Fatah official Mounir al-Jaghoub wrote on Twitter.

Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouq on Monday speculated — without providing evidence — that Israel had demanded that Abbas delay the elections.

In a statement, Palestinian Authority presidency spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeinah dismissed accusations that Abbas planned to withdraw his election decree.

“The decision to hold the general elections will not be reversed because elections are a democratic and a popular demand,” Abu Rudeinah told Voice of Palestine Radio on Monday.

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