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Abbas signs Presidential decree for new Palestinian elections

What happened: Mahmoud Abbas, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority (PA), announced on Friday that the PA will be holding parliamentary, national, and presidential elections later this year.

  • Abbas instructed the central election committee to prepare for elections in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and in East Jerusalem.
  • Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh confirmed to Abbas in a letter that his organisation would agree to hold elections as part of a national reconciliation process. A Hamas statement said, “It is necessary to expedite the holding of a comprehensive national dialogue in which all Palestinian factions participate without exception.”
  • The move has been welcomed by the UN and EU, with the EU’s spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy stating, “The EU stands ready to engage with relevant actors to support the electoral process. The EU also calls on Israeli authorities to facilitate the holding of elections across all the Palestinian territory.”
  • Last night two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip and landed in open areas near the coast, by Ashdod in southern Israel. In response, the Israel Air Force struck Hamas military targets, including tunnel digging sites.

Context: Abbas won the last presidential elections in 2005, in what was meant to be a four-year term. Sixteen years later he remains in power.

  • The last parliamentary elections took place in 2006, which resulted in a Hamas victory. The following year Hamas orchestrated a violent coup against Fatah in the Gaza Strip and have remained in control there ever since.
  • Since 2007 there have been numerous reconciliation agreements between Fatah and Hamas, although none have ever been fully implemented. Fatah are wary of holding new elections that allow Hamas to re-establish power bases in the West Bank. Hamas have not agreed to allow PA forces back into Gaza.
  • Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organisation. The international community, including UK, US and EU has refused to cooperate with Hamas until it accepts three conditions: it recognises Israel, denounces terrorism, and commits to all previous PLO agreements with Israel.
  • A significant point of contention is whether Israel will allow voting in East Jerusalem.
  • According to a recent polling by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, in a presidential run-off between Abbas and Haniyeh, the PA Chairman would receive 43 per cent and the Hamas leader would win 50 per cent.
  • Abbas, who is 85 years old, is not very popular. Around two-thirds of Palestinians think he should resign.
  • According to the polls, the only senior Fatah officials that could beat Haniyeh is Marwan Barghouti, who is serving several life sentences in an Israeli prison.
  • Another potential rival to Abbas is Mohammed Dahlan. PA officials have said he will not be allowed to run because he is a convicted criminal and a non-resident in the West Bank. Dahlan is a former PA security commander in the Gaza Strip, and he has been living in the UAE since 2011. He is considered a close adviser to UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
  • There is speculation that the announcement was made in order to endear Abbas to the new Biden administration.

Looking ahead:  According to this latest announcement, the parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 22 and the presidential elections for July 31. On August 31 they will vote a third time for the Palestinian National Council.

  • Fatah and Hamas representatives are expected to meet in Cairo in the next few days to agree on the election process.
  • Due to past failures to reconcile, there remains a high degree of scepticism whether these elections will happen.

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