Palestinians say to hold polls if Israel approves Jerusalem voting
Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and blockaded Gaza Strip have voiced hope that elections could help restore credibility in their political system and heal rifts.
Fatah, which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, reached an agreement with its long-standing rival Hamas, the Islamists who control Gaza, to hold legislative polls on 22 May and a presidential vote on 31 July.
The Palestinians have insisted voting take place in the West Bank, Gaza, and in east Jerusalem, the Israel-annexed part of the Holy City that Palestinians claim as their future capital.
"We will have elections when Israel approves elections in east Jerusalem," Abbas told a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was set to decide whether the vote would be postponed.
Hamas said on Wednesday it "rejects any attempt to postpone the elections". Hamas won a surprise victory in the 2006 elections but it was not recognised by Abbas. The Islamists took power in Gaza the following year in a week of bloody clashes.
Ahead of the crunch meeting, Abbas critics had charged that he would seek to buy time as Fatah's prospects have been threatened by splinter factions. Abbas has faced challenges from Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and another by a powerful, exiled former Fatah security chief Mohammed Dahlan.
"If Abbas delays elections, we will start with demonstrations," Daoud Abu Libdeh, a candidate with Dahlan's "Future" faction, told journalists in Jerusalem.
During the last Palestinian election, east Jerusalem residents cast ballots on the outskirts of the city and thousands voted in post offices, a symbolic move agreed to by Israel.
Israel foreign ministry said this week that elections were "an internal Palestinian issue, and that Israel has no intention of intervening in them nor preventing them". But it made no comment on voting in Jerusalem, the city it describes as its "undivided capital" and where it now bans all Palestinian political activity.
Abbas told PLO leaders that he had received a message from Israel saying it could not offer guidance on the Jerusalem issue because the Jewish state currently had no government.
Israel is itself mired in its worst ever political crisis, with no government yet formed following inconclusive March 23 elections.
According to Abbas, the Israel note said: "We are sorry, dear neighbours, that we cannot answer you on Jerusalem. The reason is that we have no government." Abbas dismissed that message as "empty talk".
Palestinian journalist and Abbas critic Nadia Harhash, a candidate on the "Together We Can" electoral list, said on Wednesday that using Jerusalem as an excuse for postponement "is definitely not a smart move for the PA". She argued it would give Israel de facto veto power over the Palestinian right to vote.
Hamas said a delay amount to a surrender to "the (Israeli) occupation's veto".
Tensions in Jerusalem surged at the weekend as Palestinians clashed with Israeli police over the right to gather in an Old City plaza after evening Ramadan prayers. Following several days of unrest that left dozens injured, Israeli police removed the barricades blocking the staired plaza at Damascus Gate, allowing Palestinians to resume their gatherings.
Hamas said such "heroic victories" should encourage Palestinians to press ahead with Jerusalem voting.
The elections have been seen in part as a unified effort by Hamas and Fatah to bolster international faith in Palestinian governance ahead of possible renewed US-led diplomacy under President Joe Biden, after four years of Donald Trump that saw Washington endorse key Israeli objectives.
Harhash argued that Abbas had hoped the elections would allow Fatah and Hamas to continue sharing power, but felt threatened by the emergence of strong splinter factions and the rise of new political groups critical of his leadership.
The main challenges to Abbas include the "Freedom list" headed by Kidwa, which has been endorsed by Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences in Israel prison.
Dahlan, who poses another threat, has been credited with bringing coronavirus vaccines into Gaza and distributing financial aid across the enclave, as well as in the West Bank. (AFP)