Palestinian general elections: more empty promises from Abbas?

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As negotiations surrounding Israel’s next Prime Minister seem to have reached an impasse, much of the regional attention has turned towards Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who recently renewed calls for another Palestinian general election.

Abbas told the UN General Assembly last month that he plans to set a date for elections in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians have not been given the opportunity to vote for their leaders in 13 years, ever since Hamas, the rival faction to Abbas’ Fatah party, won a majority in the last elections for the Legislative Council in 2006.

What was supposed to be a four-year-presidential term for Abbas ended in 2009, and the mandate for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in 2010. With no elections since, both Abbas’ rule in the West Bank and Hamas’ in Gaza has remained in place.

The statements a few weeks ago calling for new elections were not the first of its kind made by the President. Over the years he has made countless promises and failed attempts at holding elections and achieving reconciliation with Hamas — frequently blaming any failures on the latter party.

Even in his UN speech, Abbas referred to the democratic election of Hamas in 2006 as a “coup”, saying the “democratic process” in Palestine was “paralyzed” as a result.

Despite his history of less than successful attempts, Abbas’ speech was welcomed by all rival political factions, including Hamas.

While it seems that Abbas and his rivals are all on board for another shot at elections, many analysts and Palestinian citizens remain skeptical as to the feasibility of holding fair elections any time soon.

One of the first red flags raised has been the fact that Abbas did not specify if his call for general elections included a presidential election alongside elections for the PLC — which was unilaterally dissolved by Abbas last year.

Responding to Abbas’ UN speech, head of Hamas’ media department Rafat Morra told Al Jazeera Arabic that the announcement was “vague and unclear,” highlighting Hamas’ demands for presidential, PLC, and Palestine Liberation Organization National Council elections to be held concurrently.

“We cannot deal with elections and national issues in a piecemeal way…this requires a comprehensive dialogue, leading to inclusive elections at all levels and a national consensus,” Morra said.

Another question that remains is if Abbas or his party were to lose in elections, would he allow the results to hold up? Those concerns have been exacerbated by recent polls that found that more than 60% of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank wants Abbas to step down.

Gaza-based political activist Nabil Diab told Mondoweiss that while skeptical, he and other Gazans are hopeful that things could be different this time.

“Maybe this time could be different, in terms of Abbas actually following through,” Diab told Mondoweiss. “And the fact that all the other factions said they are open to it is a good sign.”

But, as many others have pointed out, the prospect of elections still seem far fetched as long as Fatah and Hamas fail to implement all the reconciliation agreements they have made over the years.

“The Palestinians, specifically in Gaza, are disillusioned with all of their leaders, from all of the factions,” Diab said. “So in order for people to trust the elections process, they first need to reestablish trust with their leaders.”

Diab anticipates that even if reconciliation is achieved, it will take years until Palestinian leaders can come to a point where they can hold open and fair elections.

“In order to have fair elections, we need to ensure that all people are allowed to vote — in Gaza, in Jerusalem, and in the West Bank. We need independent, international oversight to ensure that there is no foul play or tampering with the results or the process,” he said.

“For the past 13 years the people haven’t been given a fair chance to express their votes or their preferences for leaders,” Diab continued, “so it’s high time that we give the people their right to do so.”

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Abbas is age 83; one would think he would be happy to step down by now. How about running Bargoutti (sic) in his place? Joke.