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Hamas bans Arafat memorial rally in Gaza

What happened: Hamas stopped its rival Fatah from holding a memorial rally in the Gaza Strip yesterday to mark 15 years since the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The move came as both sides continued negotiations over holding legislative and presidential elections in the Palestinian Territories for the first time in over a decade.

  • Fatah and Hamas, via Egyptian mediation, have been in talks about holding an election. Progress looked likely with Hamas ostensibly agreeing to hold legislative elections first, with the presidential ballot taking place at an unknown later date. Hamas also reportedly agreed to Fatah’s demand that legislative elections be held via a national electoral list system, and not split the ballot with regional representation.
  • Yet a new stumbling block emerged this week, with Fatah also demanding that Hamas agree to Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) guidelines, including recognition of Israel and past Israeli-Palestinian agreements, before being allowed to participate.
  • It was also unclear whether Israel would allow elections to be held in East Jerusalem (in addition to Gaza and the West Bank), a demand made by both Hamas and Fatah.

Context: Hamas and Fatah have been divided geographically and politically since the 2007 coup which ejected the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, from Gaza. New elections, first floated by PA President Mahmoud Abbas last September at the UN General Assembly, were thought to be a way to heal divisions and renew the Palestinian public’s trust in its ruling parties and institutions.

  • Yet gaps and mistrust between the two sides remain significant. Abbas was first (and only once) elected to the presidency in 2005. In 2006 Hamas surprisingly won the legislative elections, beating a badly divided Fatah list. Both sides are loath to risk their respective power bases at the ballot box.
  • Abbas, 84, has previously said he would not seek re-election, raising the spectre of a successor from within Fatah being put forward as the party’s nominee for president. One potential future leader, Jibril Rajoub, earlier this week confirmed that Abbas would likely not run again – a further complication since a succession battle within Fatah could undermine the party’s public standing ahead of any new election.
  • Amidst the internal Palestinian intrigue, Israeli Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman said yesterday that the intelligence service had prevented more than 450 “significant terror attacks” in 2019. “We have allowed Israeli citizens to have full and comfortable lives in the day-to-day without knowing what’s going on underground,” he added.

Looking ahead: Argaman’s statement further highlights the risk of allowing Hamas to increase its power in the West Bank via the ballot box. Israel is unlikely to allow an election in East Jerusalem, potentially providing a ready excuse for Hamas and Fatah to delay elections once again. Regardless, the divisions between the two Palestinian factions, coupled with Abbas’ uncertain political future, will likely render the issue moot.