Despite the statements stressing that the presidential, legislative and Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections will take place as scheduled in May 2012, holding the elections on time remains unlikely in light of the considerations of the involved parties, especially Hamas and Fatah. In addition, the conditions on the ground do not seem to provide a supportive environment.
For Fatah, the elections are the democratic means for renewing its legitimacy to represent the Palestinians. This will ultimately protect its pursuit of maintaining authority, proceeding with the peace process and facing the legitimacy which Hamas garnered in the 2006 elections.
It might appear that holding elections in the PA controlled areas, especially the West Bank (WB), would help Fatah restore popular legitimacy and confirm its leadership of the Palestinian people. Yet, Fatah should consider the following concerns:
1. Fatah made no tangible achievements in administering the WB, the peace process or the PLO.
2. Fatah still suffers different organizational and structural problems, which will impact its electoral performance.
3. Hamas’ limited role in the WB does not reflect its weakness but is rather related to the security measures maintained by the PA and the Israeli forces. An atmosphere of genuine freedom for persons and institutions prior to the elections may show that Hamas still has significant influence.
4. The elections will not be limited to the PA in the WB and Gaza Strip (GS). Rather, they will include the PNC at home and abroad besides the restructuring of the PLO and its institutions. This, however, seems unlikely for many Fatah leaders because it will break up the movement’s monopoly of the PLO and open the door for a stronger role by Hamas and the resistance factions.
Fatah has previously sought to prevent Hamas from sharing power in the PLO, and many Fatah officials will not be happy to extend Hamas influence to the PLO. Thus, they will seek to restrict elections to the PA regions and disable the PLO elections, hence repeating the 2006 scene. This will probably be faced with severe rejection from the other Palestinian factions, especially Hamas.
Hamas perceives elections as the tool to effectively participate in national institutions (the PLO and the PA). Hamas believes that it has the capacity to enhance the work of these institutions and to lead them. Further, the Palestinians have reiterated their support of Hamas’ military resistance thus stressing the movement’s strategic importance for the Palestinian people.
Indeed, Hamas still enjoys wide popular support at home and abroad in addition to organizational cohesion and strong institutional structure as compared to Fatah. It also enjoys a strong position as it remains in control of the GS and its public institutions and apparatuses. Moreover, the movement still insists on the conditions agreed upon in the reconciliation paper to hold the elections. These conditions are:
1. Ending political detention and ensuring public freedoms equally between all the Palestinians in the WB. This will allow all factions to launch and promote their elections platform and will enable their supporters to choose freely their representatives.
2. Ensuring that fair elections will be held in GS and WB including East Jerusalem.
3. Conducting presidential and legislative elections of the PA in conjunction with the PNC elections (or appointments), at home and abroad. This will allow all factions to effectively participate in the PLO in a legal, fair way and to join the leadership of the Executive Committee.
The Israeli stance regarding the Palestinian elections is based on the following considerations:
1. Not allowing the recurrence of the 2006 experience which will re-legalize the armed resistance option and Hamas’ participation in the PA in the WB. This will threaten the Israeli interests, including economic cooperation and security coordination.
2. Preventing the Palestinian national movement from geographic unity between the WB and GS or restoring constitutional legitimacy of any government which includes Hamas and other resistance factions. Israel seeks to prevent Fatah and the Palestinian leadership from taking advantage of such an achievement in the UN membership bid.
3. Imposing on the Palestinians to foil the UN bid for membership, ignore the settlement freeze condition and return to the negotiations “process.”
It does not seem that the Israeli government, which is dominated by the radical right wing, will allow Hamas or other resistance factions to work in the WB and prepare for fair and free elections. It will say that it wants to prevent attempts of rebuilding their military infrastructure.
Accordingly, as long as the occupation exists in the WB, resistance trends are unlikely to work freely. This ultimately means that the chances for free elections are also weak.
This possibility stems from the lack of an environment suitable for holding the elections and from Fatah’s inability to present any important achievement to the Palestinians before the elections. It is also enhanced by the stalemate in the WB caused by the failure to agree on the elections criteria.
The Israeli government’s positions and measures emphasize the orientation to not allow elections. Thus, many Israeli ministers have refused holding the elections especially in Jerusalem which Hamas and Fatah consider a must in any elections. In addition, the Israeli authorities have arrested more than 20 Hamas deputies including the head of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Dr. Aziz Dweik.
This possibility is based on one or more of the following:
1. The emergence of an American position pressuring the Netanyahu government to allow the Palestinian elections in accordance with the “democratic” developments in different Arab countries. However, such a role is not likely pending the results of the US presidential elections in the least. This means that this scenario is not possible before the end of 2012.
2. A breakthrough in negotiations. However, this development is unlikely especially after declaring the failure of the meetings in Amman due to the intransigence of the Netanyahu government and its refusal to recognize the 1967 borders of the Palestinian State.
3. The confidence on the American and Israeli side that Hamas would lose the elections coupled with the increased tendency in the Arab world towards supporting the Palestinians and antagonizing the Israelis. This will urge the Israeli government to present concessions to avoid the collapse of the Oslo Accord and the settlement track. Such concessions would include allowing the elections in the PA regions.
Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Moueen Manna’ for authoring the original text on which this Strategic Assessment was based.