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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 28 February 2021

Mahmoud Abbas to stand again for Palestinian Authority presidency

Experts say unchanged status quo in Gaza and West Bank diminishes likelihood of elections

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be Fatah’s candidate for the presidency in the presidential elections, Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said in a televised interview on Wednesday.

Mr Abbas, 85, has repeatedly said he would not seek re-election. But logistical challenges and a political stalemate in the occupied Palestinian territories will diminish the likelihood that presidential and parliamentary elections will be held, experts said.

Mr Abbas said the Palestinian Authority will hold legislative and presidential elections in May and July successively for the first time in 15 years.

But Palestinian watchers are sceptical that such polls will take place.

Fatah, which controls the West Bank-based PA, and its Islamist rival Hamas, which controls Gaza, are “not interested in relinquishing their authority or giving up meaningful security control”, Ghaith Al Omari, senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The National.

This long-standing stalemate since Hamas’s win in the 2006 parliamentary elections and its takeover of Gaza a year later are some reasons why plans for elections have repeatedly fallen through, Mr Al Omari said.

Additionally, Israel could bar Palestinians from voting in East Jerusalem, another event that could derail the elections.

“Keep in mind that all this is happening when Israel is on the eve of its own elections in March – the fourth in two years – and nobody campaigns on looking soft,” Mr Al Omari said.

“Israel is probably not going to co-operate in these Palestinian elections and not just in East Jerusalem but potentially in the West Bank – because they still have to facilitate the movement of election monitors there,” he said.

Gaza-based political analyst Hani Habib told The National he believes international pressure on Israel to support the elections will mount.

“There will be lot of pressure on Israel to facilitate the election operation, despite some problems that could erupt in Jerusalem,” he said.

On Saturday, the European Union expressed support for the elections and called on Israel to co-operate in supporting them.

“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,” said Peter Stano, the EU spokesman for foreign affairs and security policy.

Mr Habib said he believes the chances of a presidential election succeeding are greater than those of a legislative election.

Although some mechanisms such as electronic voting or setting up voting stations outside Jerusalem might provide a workaround for the elections to go ahead, Mr Al Omari believes the Palestinian Authority could use the issue in East Jerusalem as an “easy way out” of the elections.

Additionally, if the elections occurred, a Hamas win would pose many problems, not only for the US administration – which under president Donald Trump cut back ties to the Palestinian government and recognises Hamas as a terrorist group – but to neighbouring Jordan and Egypt, which share borders with the West Bank and Gaza respectively.

“Palestinian elections are not only a Palestinian right but a regional and international demand to prepare for new negotiations with Israel, especially as the new US administration arrives,” Mr Habib said.

But mistrust not only between rival factions but between the Palestinians and their political representatives poses a problem that could lead to a lower turnout of voters if the elections do come through, Mr Habib said.

Updated: January 21, 2021 09:26 AM

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