After a prolonged disjunct and competition between Hamas ruling Gaza and Al Fatah (PLO) ruling out of Ramallah the two had agreed to bury their differences so that the next elections could be held in May 2021. Last elections were held in 2006 when the deep seated political and principled differences and the international politics undermined any chances of a unity government or even a broad workable mechanism. A division among the major Palestinian factions obviously defeats any chances of resolution of the festering plight of the Palestinians. It had been further compounded by the apathy of those entrusted to resolve differences between Israel and Palestine. Umpteen number of arrangements and agreements have been made and done away with ranging from Camp David to Oslo to Riyadh and list goes on. Trump’s “Deal of the Century” converted the century old movement into a mere business deal. With Biden on the scene and his initial assistance to Palestinians restoring it to UNRWA and rescinding of some controversial decisions by Trump Administration like reopening of Palestine mission in Washington DC led to the hope that perhaps one might witness a move forward in the right direction to resolve the Palestine issue so that eventual peace across the region could prevail.
President Mahmoud Abbas decided to postpone the elections since the Israelis were not able to ensure that Palestinians in occupied territories will be allowed to vote fearing further confrontation with Israel and frustration among the Palestinians since elections would not be treated as legitimate and fully representative. Israel seems to have overtly kept the request pending as it does not seem to have a proper government and country is in political transition. The deputy head of Fatah, Mahmoud al-Aloul, said that excluding Jerusalem from the Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections would be “a betrayal and a crime.” Member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Azzam al-Ahmad said that the elections cannot be held under occupation since it will be a recognition of the legitimacy of the occupation. The election in Jerusalem is not “technical or logistical”, it is linked to the fate of the Palestinian cause.
Last week, blaming Israel, Abbas postponed legislative elections “Facing this difficult situation, we decided to postpone the date of holding legislative elections until the participation of Jerusalem and its people is guaranteed”. However, large number of candidates and ‘lists’ represented to the Election Commission not to allow Abbas to cancel the elections and reject any demand which as such would be illegal and unconstitutional. Hamas also refused to accept the announcement of election postponement by Abbas. “We reject this decision which violates the national consensus, and Fatah movement bears responsibility for the consequences of this position,” reiterated Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhr.
Moreover, the Fatah itself is ridden with factionalism and ageing Abbas is losing the grip. Challenges to Abbas include the “Freedom list” headed by Arafat’s nephew Nasser Al Kidwa, which has been endorsed by Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences in Israel prison and Dahlan, based out of UAE poses another threat, said to be arranging coronavirus vaccines into Gaza and distributing financial aid across the enclave and the West Bank. This has become far more pronounced since the signing of the Abraham Accords that indicated less sanguine Arab interest in supporting the cause of Palestine.
It is logical to assume that Israeli right-wing establishment would rather not see a unified Palestinian front to contend with -which will advance their negotiating advantage and remove a major irritant in ensuring international support yet again. Of course, Hamas’s credentials and its extremist ideologies and terrorist acts would need to be reformed and shunned for it to be a responsible partner. Gulf countries like Qatar helped mediate between Tel Aviv and Gaza and so do the Egyptians while Ramallah is supported by several other Arab countries including UAE and Saudi Arabia even if they are not equally pleased with Abbas and would rather see their own protégé in charge. Meanwhile, Turkey and Iran have emerged as the new champions of the Palestinian cause as the Arabs are beset by donor and delay fatigue combined with their own economic woes and preoccupied with their own challenges both within and with the US Administration in the post Trump era.
Now having established and normalised diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv some Gulf countries hope to create a platform for negotiations between their old cause and new friends. But Hamas’s victory might undermine security coordination with Tel Aviv and could pose a significant challenge for the world community especially US, EU and Israel which have declared Hamas as a terrorist organisation. No wonder even US did not appear categorical in their support for elections as they are tied up with Iranian Nuclear deal. State Department Spokesman Ned Price mentioned “The exercise of democratic elections is a matter for the Palestinian people and for the Palestinian leadership to determine.” People indeed are not happy as a majority were looking forward to bridging the political gap among major rival protagonists and give them a chance of having a unified state governed by a political spectrum rather than being divided amidst opposing poles. They also want change as the younger generation is growing impatient.
As President Abbas had feared public furore over his decision to cancel the elections, he had asked the security to be beefed up to prevent any major flare up. This was further compounded by Israeli media and Turkish agency reports that the Head of Israel’s Shin Bet Security Agency Nadav Argaman secretly met with Palestinian Authority (PA), Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas and asked him to call off Palestinian elections. He also seems to have warned Abbas about pushing forward an investigation into Israeli crimes at the International Criminal Court, Fatah’s plan to run on a joint list with Hamas for the parliamentary elections and forming a coalition government with Hamas. EU and US officials also seem to have assessed and conveyed similar concerns to Abbas as per some analysts. Given his own uncertainty of the poll outcomes the push to postpone the legislative elections may not have been unwelcome to Abbas.
These reports added fuel to fire among the Palestinians and various factions to whom an opportunity to share or acquire power was delayed if not denied. Some of my Palestinian friends mentioned that there would always be a conflict with the Jewish state on one issue or the other but for Abbas to acquiesce to their wishes was just not acceptable. Had the postponement been due to Covid 19 crisis people would have still understood. Palestinians have been suffering not only due to shortage of medical and vaccine supplies dependent on foreign aid but also politicisation of the pandemic especially by Tel Aviv. But then Covid does not have the power to defeat the politicians, politics and polls. In Palestine, more division between Fatah and Hamas will take them back to square one and their dream for an independent state even farther. Mutual recriminations will not solve the deep-seated differences and credibility issues.
Written by Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation and published originally in www.vifindia.org and being reproduced with due permission from Vivekananda International Foundation, Delhi duly acknowledging their copy rights.