Palestinian elections in October will decide life after leader Abbas

Fears amid Fatah, which controls West Bank, that it will lose to Hamas which runs Gaza

Palestinians watch an anti-Israel rally organised by the Hamas movement in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip in July. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Palestinians watch an anti-Israel rally organised by the Hamas movement in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip in July. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

 

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas told leaders of his Fatah movement this week that local elections would take place in the West Bank and Gaza in October as planned, despite growing fears that Fatah could be defeated by arch-rival Hamas.

When Abbas announced in May that municipal elections would be held in more than 400 councils, the assumption was that Hamas, the Islamist group that has controlled Gaza since a coup ousted Fatah from the coastal territory in 2007, would boycott the West Bank vote and prevent polling in Gaza, as it did when the last municipal elections were held four years ago.

However, after initially criticising the decision, Hamas said it would compete and permit voting in Gaza, paving the way for the first competitive electoral contest since Hamas defeated Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction in the 2006 legislative election.

Those elections triggered an international boycott of the Palestinian Authority which eventually led to the split between Fatah and Hamas and the current political paralysis, with Fatah in control of the West Bank and Gaza run by Hamas.

Hamas launched its election campaign this week, releasing an online video clip featuring beaches, public parks, squares, mosques and high-rise buildings in Gaza with music in the background and smiling residents holding up signs with the hashtag: “Thank you, Hamas.”

The video also showed a statue celebrating the Hamas armed struggle against Israel and a replica of a military dog tag of an Israeli soldier killed during the last Gaza war.

Unity deal

In contrast to Hamas, the smaller and more extreme Islamic Jihad said it was boycotting the local elections, saying the poll was not an “appropriate way out of the Palestinian national impasse”.

Instead, it urged Hamas to reconcile with Fatah, based on the still-born unity deal of April 2014, which proposed a technocratic government taking over administration of both Gaza and the West Bank.

Polls indicate there may be no clear winner on October 8th in the West Bank or Gaza in what is likely to be the last elections held under the rule of 81-year-old president Abbas. In the last municipal elections in 2004, in which both Hamas and Fatah participated, Fatah won 34 per cent and Hamas 30 per cent of the vote.

In the West Bank many still view the Palestinian Authority and the dominant Fatah faction as corrupt and too closely aligned with Israel, which still controls large areas of the West Bank where Jewish settlements continue to expand.

Fatah desperately needs a political victory of some kind to legitimise its continued grip on power.

Important milestone

Both Hamas and Fatah are expected to run on joint lists with prominent independents and members of local extended-family clans, which still play a prominent part in Palestinian politics.

In Gaza, the vote is seen as an important milestone after a decade of Hamas rule. Some Fatah supporters may back a rival list led by former intelligence chief Mohammed Dahlan, the former Fatah leader in Gaza, who now lives in exile and is a bitter rival of Abbas.

The local elections are unlikely to radically alter the national Palestinian leadership nor break the diplomatic impasse with Israel, where no peace negotiations have taken place for two years.

However, Hamas views the vote as a way to gauge its current standing and future prospects ahead of long-awaited legislative and presidential elections. The poll will be an important indication of the state of Palestinian politics as we approach the potentially turbulent post-Abbas era.

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