Elections in Conflict Zones-Holding General Elections…When and How?!

Since 2006, the Palestinians have not held general elections due to several factors mainly the sharp division between Fatah and Hamas, the two main rival factions on the Palestinian political landscape. Throughout the past years, the Palestinian public has been demanding according to reliable public opinion polls to hold general elections. The two main political rivals i.e. Fatah and Hamas have struck several agreements of reconciliation in the past but none of these deals was successfully implemented. In light of the recent political developments, including the normalization deals between Israel and a number of key Arab Gulf States with implicit Saudi backing, the Palestinian leadership convened a meeting with all the factions’ chiefs between Ramallah and Beirut with President Abbas. The meeting was concluded with a final communique highlighting three main points of agreement. Those points were presented as follows: 1- To end the division between Fatah and Hamas and to hold general elections. 2- To reach an agreement within a period of five weeks on the issue of PLO reform (inclusion of all factions in the PLO), and 3. To form a national leadership of popular resistance. More than three weeks have passed since the meeting of the factions’ chiefs, and very little progress has been made on the issues at stake mainly holding general elections. Many Palestinian officials however from both Hamas and Fatah have affirmed genuine intent to hold the general elections as a prelude to permanently end the division between Fatah and Hamas. The main issue at stake, which is disputed even within Fatah, is that for reconciliation to be achieved, Hamas’s control over the Gaza strip must end by bringing back the PA administrative and security control over the Gaza strip. Another main view within Fatah however which seems to be the prevailing one so far with support from President Abbas, is that all past agreements with Hamas have failed to end the division and under the current political realities, there is no escape from holding general elections as a prelude to ending the division between the West Bank and Gaza i.e. between Hamas and Fatah. The party that will win the proportional representation elections will be tasked with forming a government that will extend its control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. While the public and observers continue to hold a skeptic and a pessimistic view regarding the prospects of a successful Fatah-Hamas agreement, the dialogue between the two movements continues while the other factions simply wait for a breakthrough to join.

Since the meeting of factions’ chiefs on September 3, during which it was agreed to hold general Palestinian elections, Horizon Center has been holding meetings with PA and PLO decision-makers, local organizations, and political activists to promote the issuance of a presidential decree setting a date for the general elections.  To that end, Horizon Center in cooperation with Wattan News Network held a roundtable discussion with the member of the PLO Executive Committee, Dr. Ahmad al-Majdalani to discuss the prospects and timing of holding the general elections. The discussion generated several policy recommendations, which were embraced by all participants. The roundtable discussion was recorded and broadcast over local TV, Radio, Facebook, and other social media outlets to maximize outreach to the public and generate a public debate about the need to hold the elections. The main participants in the discussion included the head of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, Dr. Ammar Dweik, the Executive Director of the Palestinian Elections Commission, Hisham Kuhail, and the Director of the Local Elections Monitoring and Democratization Group, Aref Jafal.

The discussion touched on several key issues to elections including the Jerusalem elections. The participants urged the Palestinian leadership to find creative ways to hold the elections in East Jerusalem while taking into account, the possibility of Israel obstructing the process. The question of Jerusalem residents’ participation and representation in these elections was the focus of debate. Some participants suggested that Jerusalem elections be held in accordance with past agreements with Israel e.g. 1996, 2005, and 2006, while others stressed that these elections ought to be held in a manner breaking away from those agreements and the restrictions, which were imposed on numbers and mechanism of elections at the time.

Furthermore, Dr. al-Majdalani noted that holding general elections is viewed by the Palestinian leadership as a means of peaceful struggle against Israel who may seek to obstruct the entire process and not only in Jerusalem. He maintained that the elections will be held for the State of Palestine and not for the PA institutions based on the Oslo Accords. He clarified by saying those elections will be held on a full proportional representation system to elect a parliament for the State of Palestine and not a legislative council. He explained that the elected members will become delegates in the Palestinian National Council of the PLO.  He then noted that while it is difficult to hold elections in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, the political factions will reach an agreement on the mechanism to elect/select delegates representing those Palestinians living in the Diaspora. He thus explained that the intended general elections will cover both entities i.e. the State of Palestine parliament and the PLO National Council. Dr. al-Majdalani also stressed that the Palestinian public is probably dismissive of the talk on holding elections given the bitter experiences in the past 15 years. He said however that the Palestinian leadership believes that the elections are the only means possible to renew the legitimacy of the leadership, and to stand against the political schemes that aim at liquidating the Palestinian alienable rights.

The discussion was concluded with several key recommendations to policy/decision-makers:

  • To amend and publish the 2007 Full Proportional Representation Law as agreed by the factions last year. Note: Those amendments include among other things holding consecutive and not simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections.
  • To issue a Presidential Decree setting a specific date for the general elections.
  • To reach an agreement on creative ways to address the issue of Jerusalem residents elections under all possible scenarios including Israeli obstruction of the process.
  • Given the prevailing state of skepticism, to engage active youth, women leaders, and political activists in the process of preparing the public opinion to engage in the elections process.
To watch the full roundtable discussion, please click here