The Palestinians have had some cause for optimism lately about holding democratic elections in the occupied Palestinian territories. This followed marathon meetings between the head of the Central Elections Committee (CEC), Hanna Nasir, and representatives of the Palestinian factions.
After getting positive responses from both of the main factions – Hamas and Fatah – Nasir expressed his hope that his committee could start to prepare the ballot boxes soon. Qatar’s pledge to pay the election expenses further boosted Palestinian hopes. Palestinians and observers alike have been waiting for the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and PLO President Mahmoud Abbas to issue his decree and give the go-ahead for the democratic process to begin for the first time since 2006.
The people of Palestine have been waiting for the elections to bring about the end of the internal division, an end to PA corruption — it has been acting without parliamentary oversight for almost 15 years — and an end to the administrative crises affecting different ministries which have resulted in the existence of two governments. They would also like to see an end to the disunity of foreign Palestinian representation.
However, there are now signs that could lead to such optimism evaporating, with PA, Fatah and PLO officials making provocative remarks about Hamas’s written response to the elections sent through Nasir to Abbas. The latter has said several times that he will issue a presidential decree as soon as Hamas has given him its response, including full consent about holding and taking part in the democratic process. The CEC received it on 26 November and handed it to Abbas, who was in Qatar, the next day. However, the Palestinian President has neither issued the decree nor even responded to the Islamic movement.
According to Azzam Al-Ahmad, the head of Fatah’s parliamentary bloc, “Abbas will not issue the presidential decree except when Hamas explains what it means by the phrase ‘rules of engagement’ which was mentioned in its written reply.” That is what he told the local media on Sunday.
The following day, PA Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein Al-Sheikh was also reported by a Palestinian media outlet saying that “Abbas will not issue the presidential decree related to the elections until Hamas put its weapons under the control of the PA security services.”
Today, the Secretary of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, Majed Al-Fityani, said, “If Hamas is serious about its intention to go for elections, it should stop facilitating American and Israeli missions in Gaza.” This was a reference to the American hospital which is being built in the north of the Gaza Strip with two gates, one controlled by Palestinian security guards in Gaza and the other controlled by the Israelis.
Furthermore, speaking to Felesteen Radio, Fatah’s top official in Gaza Ahmed Hellis accused Hamas of “turning its back” on the elections and being involved in achieving selfish gains through “its talks and relations” with Israel and the Americans. This, remember, all comes from someone loyal to a Palestinian Authority President who has declared openly that security cooperation — some say collaboration — with the Israeli occupation is “sacred”.
In response to such comments, Hamas spokesman Abdul Latif Al-Qanou told me that, “The term ‘rules of engagement’ refers to the relationship with the Israeli occupation state, including security and civil coordination.”
Moreover, another spokesman for the movement, Fawzi Barhoum, pointed out that, “The American hospital in Gaza was discussed and agreed by all the Palestinian factions and in cooperation with Qatar and Egypt. This was proposed by mediators as a solution for the lack of proper medical treatment for several types of serious diseases.”
Al-Qanou could have added that “rules of engagement” refers to the PA-Israeli security coordination against the armed and popular Palestinian resistance, and that such coordination is opposed by all of the Palestinian factions except Fatah. And Barhoum could have noted that the demand to have a solution for the crises of serious diseases in Gaza arose after the sanctions imposed by the PA on Gaza which include blocking the transfer of Palestinian patients from the enclave to get treatment in the West Bank, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.
It seems that Abbas will never issue a presidential decree to kick-start the elections, and has ordered his officials to put a spoke in the election wheel in order to derail the process and prompt a strong response from Hamas. That would then, Abbas no doubt thought, give him another excuse to cancel the elections.
However, the comments by the PA and Fatah officials look more like further procrastination by people who want to cling to power at all costs, rather than serious, considered criticism. I am convinced more than ever that even if Hamas kept quiet, Abbas would still not issue a decree to get the elections underway. He is denying the people of Palestine their right to engage in the democratic process.