Palestinian Vote Delayed, Prolonging Split for West Bank and Gaza

JERUSALEM — When the Palestinian Authority called in January for parliamentary elections, many Palestinians hoped the vote — the primary within the occupied territories since 2006 — would revive Palestinian discourse, re-energize the independence motion and finish a 14-year division between Palestinian leaders within the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

But these hopes have been dashed Thursday evening when President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority introduced that the vote, scheduled for May 22, can be delayed indefinitely.

The information compounded an unsettled political dynamic throughout the occupied territories and the state of Israel, the place each Israeli and Palestinian societies stay racked by political stalemate and division, the place tensions are rising in Jerusalem and Gaza, and a return to peace negotiations seems much less probably than ever.

The official purpose for the postponement was the refusal by the Israeli authorities to substantiate that it will enable voting in East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli battle. East Jerusalem is especially populated by Palestinians who take part in elections for the Palestinian Authority, a semiautonomous establishment that exerts partial jurisdiction in different elements of the occupied territories.

“We decided to postpone the legislative elections until guaranteeing that Jerusalem and its people take part,” mentioned Mr. Abbas in a speech in Ramallah. “We don’t give up Jerusalem.”

But the postponement additionally served one other goal: Mr. Abbas was involved that if the election went forward, his celebration, Fatah, may lose floor to 2 Fatah splinter teams, based on a Palestinian official and a Western diplomat briefed by the Palestinian management.

Israeli officers, in the meantime, have been involved that the elections would result in a better function within the Palestinian management for Hamas, the militant Islamist group that wrested control of Gaza from Mr. Abbas in 2007, and which has by no means acknowledged Israel.

“It is a big mistake to go to these elections,” Kamil Abu Rokon, an Israeli normal who oversaw administrative elements of the occupation till earlier this month, said shortly earlier than leaving his put up. “My recommendation is not to cooperate.”

Analysts additionally mentioned the Israeli leaders have been joyful to maintain their Palestinian counterparts divided, because it undermines the Palestinians’ capability to pursue a last standing settlement with Israel as a unified bloc.

Hamas condemned Mr. Abbas’s resolution, describing it as a “coup” that lacked standard help.

The growth comes amid a risky interval throughout the West Bank, Gaza and the state of Israel. Israeli politics can be at an impasse, following an election in March — Israel’s fourth in two years — wherein each Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his opponents didn’t win a workable majority.

In Jerusalem, the state of affairs is tense, following a march last week by far-right Jewish supremacists who chanted “Death to Arabs,” assaults on each Palestinians and Jews, and the provocative Israeli resolution, now rescinded, to shut a central plaza in East Jerusalem the place Palestinians get pleasure from gathering through the ongoing month of Ramadan.

That unrest broke months of relative calm in Gaza, the place militants fired dozens of rockets towards Israel final weekend to protest the state of affairs in Jerusalem.

The metropolis is on the coronary heart of the pretext supplied by Mr. Abbas to postpone elections.

Under the interim agreements signed within the 1990s between Israeli and Palestinian leaders generally known as the Oslo Accords, the Israeli authorities is obliged to permit Palestinian elections in East Jerusalem.

But Israel has neither blocked the election nor agreed to permit it. The Israeli authorities has not decided both manner, an Israeli official confirmed, regardless of requests by the Palestinian management. The Israeli police have detained a number of representatives of Palestinian events who tried to marketing campaign within the metropolis.

Palestinian officers mentioned that to proceed with an election with out East Jerusalem can be tantamount to giving up Palestinian claims on town and its sacred Islamic websites, together with the Aqsa mosque.

“It’s not that we are trying to avoid elections,” mentioned Ziad Abu Amr, deputy prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, and an adviser to Mr. Abbas. “Jerusalem cannot be forsaken or abandoned. You can’t surrender to the fait accompli that Israel tries to impose on Jerusalem.”

But insiders mentioned Mr. Abbas had an ulterior motive for postponement.

Long the engine of the Palestinian nationwide motion, Mr. Abbas’s celebration, Fatah, now faces unprecedented challenges, not solely from its longtime rival Hamas but additionally from ex-Fatah grandees whose campaigns chipped away at help for their former celebration.

Were elections to go forward, Fatah’s supporters can be pressured to decide on amongst three Fatah-linked factions — the official celebration; a splinter group led by an exiled former safety chief, Muhammad Dahlan; and a second breakaway faction, headed by Nasser al-Kidwa, a former envoy to the United Nations, and Marwan Barghouti, a well-liked militant serving a number of life sentences in an Israeli jail for 5 counts of homicide.

In the most recent poll, Mr. Abbas’s faction nonetheless got here out on prime, with a couple of quarter of the vote. But it was projected to fall far wanting an general majority as a result of almost as many citizens mentioned they might vote for the rival Fatah teams. Hamas polled below 9 %.

No Palestinian official would admit publicly this week that these elements affected Mr. Abbas’s considering. But talking on the situation of anonymity, a Palestinian official and a Western diplomat briefed by the Palestinians mentioned that he feared shedding affect to his former allies.

And after Mr. Kidwa and Mr. Barghouti broke with Mr. Abbas in March, a senior Palestinian official mentioned in an interview with The New York Times that the transfer put the elections in danger as a result of it risked undermining Fatah.

“Fatah’s situation needs to be strong, it needs to lead the Palestine Liberation Organization and the national project,” mentioned Wassel Abu Yousef, a member of the manager committee of the P.L.O., the official consultant of the Palestinian individuals. “If there is harm to the national project, there will be heavy and powerful voices that will be in favor of postponing the elections.”

Some Palestinians met the postponement with a shrug. Many felt the elections wouldn’t have occurred in a very free atmosphere, whereas some all the time suspected they might be canceled. Others felt voting for a Palestinian Parliament would have little impact on the largest downside of their lives: the Israeli occupation.

Elections recommend “there is a sovereign entity in which people are participating in a democratic process,” mentioned Yara Hawari, a senior analyst at Al Shabaka, a Palestinian analysis group. “But you can’t have a full democracy under occupation.”

Many Palestinians have been however livid at being disadvantaged of a uncommon probability to decide on their representatives. Crowds of protesters, a lot of whom have been too younger to vote within the final Palestinian elections, demonstrated in opposition to the choice in each the West Bank and Gaza.

“The people demand the ballot box,” they chanted.

Muhammad Shehada, a 28-year-old unemployed civil engineer from Gaza City, known as the choice “a big disappointment.” The state of affairs in Jerusalem was no purpose to cancel the elections, he mentioned: “The occupation controls Jerusalem, whether the elections are held or not.”

The lack of elections additionally raises the specter of intra-Palestinian violence, since completely different factions will now haven’t any peaceable discussion board wherein to air their grievances and specific their frustrations, mentioned Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza City.

“Many Palestinians were hoping that elections would ease the tension and friction between the factions,” mentioned Dr. Abusada. But the election delay, he mentioned, “will leave the Palestinians fighting against each other.”

Iyad Abuhweila contributed reporting from Gaza City, and Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Jerusalem.

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