Palestinian elections: "the international community has an important role to play"

In this September 27, 2020 file photo, Palestinians hold photos of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a rally in support of him in the West Bank town of Tubas.

AP - Majdi Mohammed

Text by: Guilhem Delteil Follow

6 min

This is the first time in nearly 15 years that national election dates have been announced in the Palestinian Territories.

Mahmoud Abbas signed a decree fixing the legislative elections for May 22 and the presidential elections for July 31.

After 13 years of dispute between the two main Palestinian groups, are the ruling Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, at the gates of reconciliation?

Should we believe in the prospect of this election?

Omar Shaban is a political scientist and director of the PalThink think tank based in Gaza, he answers questions from RFI.


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The publication of a decree announcing the date of elections has been announced many times in recent years, but it never took place.

This time, dates are set.

How is this rapprochement between the two main Palestinian groups explained?

Omar Shaban

 : The regional context has changed.

I think President Abbas wants to show the Biden administration, before it takes office next week, that the Palestinian Authority has already made some changes.

And I think Hamas also realizes that the atmosphere in the region is different.

Some observers consider that the

reconciliation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia

makes it difficult for Hamas to continue as before.

Egypt, which was among the countries boycotting Qatar, called on Qatar to less actively support Hamas.

And according to our information, Qatar has advised Hamas to be more conciliatory.

I also think that Turkey no longer supports Hamas in the same way as before.

There have been developments in the positions of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The new US administration has sent messages to the Palestinian Authority on the need for reform.

The European Union has also called on the Palestinian Authority to make fundamental changes.

It cannot continue to support it financially, to the tune of 300 to 400 million euros per year, without there being any sign of reform.

The context also prompted President Abbas to publish this decree.

You know, you can't go on doing nothing forever.

There has been nothing for 15 years except the increased suffering of the Palestinian people.

Also listen: Fifteen years after Abbas's election, Palestinians dream of change

Several times announced, these elections could never be organized.

In the end, the attempts always ran up against the deep differences of the two parties.

Is this rapprochement serious this time


The presidential decree that was issued yesterday makes things more serious.

There was a sort of deal between Fatah and Hamas after different

rounds of negotiations

in Turkey, Istanbul, Doha and Cairo.

Nothing was announced regarding this agreement but the two parties discussed several topics.

All Palestinian formations, however, are invited to Cairo next week to discuss other subjects.

There are still many points that can prevent the elections.

One of them is everyone's political agenda.

Hamas does not believe in the Oslo process

(editor's note: the peace process initiated with Israel in the 1990s which led to the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993)


The Palestinian Authority has ratified the Oslo accords and the elections are taking place against the backdrop of these agreements between the PLO and Israel.

Read also: The Palestinian Authority announces the holding of general elections in May and July

Another possible point of contention is freedom of speech: how much the PA will let Hamas campaign and speak out in the West Bank.

Obviously, the same question arises in reverse in Gaza: to what extent Hamas will let Fatah speak to the people.

So they have to discuss and agree on these issues.

If they find common ground on these issues, I think both parties will move forward on the election path because they have been given incentives to do so.

Beyond the real will or not of the main protagonists, the holding of a poll in the Palestinian territories is also dependent on international support?

When we talk about Palestine, the international community has an important role to play.

It must first of all mediate between the Palestinian Authority and Israel to allow the holding of this election.

The West Bank is occupied by Israel, the Gaza Strip is under Israeli blockade.

So these elections require Israeli approval.

The international community intervened in the 1996 and 2006 elections, and that is why these two ballots were able to take place.

One of the issues that remains open for now is the holding of the elections in Jerusalem.

Will the Israelis let the Palestinians who live in Jerusalem vote, either physically or even online.

The last time an attempt to hold an election failed was in the middle of last year.

And one of the reasons for this failure, among others, was that the Israelis refused to hold the elections in Jerusalem


: Israel claims Jerusalem as a united and indivisible capital and has annexed the eastern part of the city)


At that time, Israel had the full support of the Trump administration.

But the

Biden administration

has a more moderate position.

And things can be different.

Obviously, the international community must also send observers.

It must also financially and technically support the organization of these elections.

And train the Palestinians who will work on the campaign.


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