UN says 'no obstacles' in the way of Palestinian elections

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is mulling whether to postpone or cancel the long-delayed vote

Employees of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission display electoral lists ahead of the upcoming general elections, at the commission's district offices in the city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on April 6, 2021. Palestinian legislative elections are scheduled for May 22, with a presidential vote to follow on July 31. / AFP / HAZEM BADER
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UN peace envoy Tor Wennesland on Thursday said there were “no obstacles” to stop Palestinians from going to the polls next month for the first time in 15 years, amid growing concerns the parliamentary vote will not go ahead.

Mr Wennesland said the registration of candidate lists had been completed successfully and he urged Palestinian and Israeli officials not to obstruct voters from choosing their representatives on May 22.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is reportedly considering delaying or cancelling the vote, saying Palestinians in East Jerusalem could be disenfranchised by the Israeli authorities that control the area.

“Now that the legal registration and challenge period has concluded, there remain no key, technical obstacles to the holding of elections in a practical manner,” Mr Wennesland told a virtual UN Security Council meeting.

Mr Wennesland urged Palestinian and Israeli officials to allow all Palestinians – including those in East Jerusalem – to vote next month “free from intimidation” and not to arrest or detain any of the candidates or voters.

Mr Abbas, 86, in January called a parliamentary vote across the Palestinian territories, to be followed by a presidential ballot on July 31, saying that it was the fruit of a reconciliation deal struck last year with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs Gaza.

But Mr Abbas’s once-dominant Fatah movement faces challenges from breakaway factions and a unified Hamas, leading to speculation that the leader may once again postpone the twin votes, originally scheduled for 2010.

The polls are seen as a vital first step towards forging a united Palestinian voice in any future US-backed peace talks with Israel.

“The successful completion of inclusive Palestinian elections is a critical step towards renewing the democratic legitimacy of the Palestinian government,” said Mr Wennesland.

“These elections should also pave the way to uniting Gaza and the West Bank under a single, legitimate national authority, which would be an important step towards reconciliation and could advance Middle East peace.”

Mr Abbas has insisted the election must include voters in East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since 1967. The Israeli government bans Palestinian political activity in East Jerusalem and has not yet announced whether it will let voters cast ballots there.

A refusal by the Israelis could serve as a pretence for the Palestinian leadership to postpone or scrap the election, amid deep divisions within Mr Abbas’s Fatah party before a vote they could well lose to a united Hamas.

Fatah has split into three lists of candidates: One list is led by Nasser Al Kidwa, a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr Al Kidwa also has the backing of popular leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison.

Mohammed Dahlan, Mr Abbas’s former security chief in Gaza, is heading another rival list from exile in Abu Dhabi.