Neither Fatah nor Hamas is likely to secure a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislative election in May, according to a new poll, an outcome which would force the parties into an uneasy coalition or into government with smaller parties.
The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, reveals that if elections were held now, each party would win about 30 per cent of the vote.
Two defectors could deny Fatah a majority. The faction headed by former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan could gain 10 per cent and the party of ex-central committee member Nasser al-Qudwa could receive 7 per cent.
A 14-year resident of the Emirates, Dahlan has been trying to attract voters by securing Covid vaccines for Gaza and courting Hamas, which expelled him from the Gaza Strip in 2007.
A nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, al-Qudwa served as UN ambassador and foreign minister but broke with Palestinian president and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas when he decreed this year's legislative, presidential and Palestine Liberation Organisation council elections.
Neither Dahlan nor al-Qudwa would be expected to join a Fatah-led coalition.
The poll did not cover the party of independents formed by ex-prime minister Salam Fayyad, which won two seats in the legislature in the last election. He intends to remain in the opposition.
Despite Fatah's fracturing, pollster Khalil Shikaki said it is unlikely that Hamas – which is criticised for its stewardship of Gaza – would repeat its victory in the 2006 election. Having fielded one candidate per constituency then, Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats. Fatah, which split its vote by backing multiple candidates in each constituency, took just 45.
Unlike Fatah, Hamas remains united as campaigning begins, but potential West Bank candidates face arrest and intimidation by Israel, while the West Bank-based election commission could be refused entry to Gaza by Israel, which controls access by land, sea, and air.
Unlike Israelis, who have cast ballots four times in 23 months, Palestinians have voted in just four elections in the 27 years since the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority was formed. The first presidential and parliamentary elections were in 1996; the second presidential election was in 2005 and the second legislative election a year later.
Despite Israeli interference in the campaign and the conduct of the vote, former US president Jimmy Carter, who monitored all four elections, said they were the best-run and most free and fair he observed.
Neither Fatah nor Hamas has impressed prospective voters with effective handling of the coronavirus pandemic. A lack of funds has denied Palestinians essential protective gear for medical staff, medicine, and test kits. Limited supplies of vaccines have been received only this month.
Some 13,500 of three million West Bank residents and 16,000 of two million Gazans have been inoculated, although there have been 232,000 cases and 2,500 deaths in Palestine.
Israel has begun vaccinating some of the 133,000 West Bankers who work in Israel and the settlements but, despite international pressure, Israel refuses to vaccinate others, which the UN has said is in violation of international law requiring occupying powers to provide healthcare to populations they rule.