Amid growing Fatah rift, Abbas expected to postpone Palestinian legislative elections

The prospect of holding long awaited legislative elections in Palestine is quickly slipping away, as Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is expected to announce that the elections, which have been 15 years in the making, will be delayed. 

Abbas is expected to make the announcement on Thursday during a meeting of senior Palestinian political leaders in Ramallah.

Fatah Central Committee member Mahmoud Aloul told the Voice of Palestine radio on Thursday morning that the meeting will result in “a final decision on the legislative elections,” which were set to be held on May 22, adding that the topic of holding the elections in occupied East Jerusalem would be the center of discussion. 

According to Axios, Abbas is expected to make the decision via presidential decree, without setting a new date for elections. 

Axios added “in an attempt to mitigate the fallout, Abbas will propose a national unity government with the participation of all factions, including Hamas.”

For weeks now, officials within Abbas’ Fatah party have been hinting at a potential delay in elections, which they have attributed to ongoing issues regarding the participation of Palestinians living in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem. 

Fatah and other Palestinian factions have long held the position that any democratic elections in Palestine must include the participation of the more than 350,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

While Israel allowed for Palestinian participation in East Jerusalem in the last elections in 2006, the Israeli government has a long history of suppressing Palestinian political voices in the territory, and has yet to comment publicly on whether it will be allowing elections in the territory next month. 

Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh said on Tuesday that the Israeli government “officially informed us that the Israeli position regarding holding elections in East Jerusalem is still negative.”

Wasel Abu Youssef, an Abbas confidant and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, also told Reuters on Tuesday that “any prevention or obstruction of holding elections in Jerusalem would entail a postponement.”

While Palestinian officials within the Fatah movement have adopted the official position that Israeli officials are obstructing election participation in Jerusalem, and thus the elections must be postponed, Israeli officials have continued to deny such claims. 

One Israeli official told Axios reporter Barak Ravid that “Israel is not intervening in the Palestinian elections and hasn’t given the Palestinians any response regarding voting in East Jerusalem.”

In a meeting with representatives of the European Union earlier this week, Israeli foreign ministry officials said that “Israel has no intention of intervening in them nor preventing” elections, the Times of Israel reported. 

Using Jerusalem as a scapegoat

The anticipated delay in legislative elections has not come as much of a surprise to many Palestinians, who have been vocal about their skepticism regarding the elections ever since they were announced by Abbas via presidential decree in January. 

At the time, the announcement of the elections was largely regarded as a bid to restart diplomatic relations between the Palestinian Authority and the new U.S. administration under president Joe Biden — a claim denied by both U.S. and Palestinian officials. 

In the weeks following the election announcement, the U.S. administration restored hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians that was cut off by the Trump administration in previous years. 

Many Palestinians, while hopeful that the elections could offer them a chance to cast their votes for the first time in 15 years, remained doubtful about whether the elections would actually take place when the time came.

Those doubts were exacerbated in recent weeks, as internal rifts began to grow within Abbas’ Fatah party, with individual contenders announcing their own lists, challenging the official slate presented by Abbas and his inner circle. 

Around the same time, Fatah officials began floating the topic of Jerusalemite participation being a potential issue more publicly, leading to speculation that the Jerusalem issue could be used as a cover by Abbas should he seek to postpone the elections. 

With a total of 36 lists being registered to take part in the elections, and challenges from major political figures like imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, Abbas’s fears of a weakened Fatah and another potential victory by the Hamas movement similar to that of 2006 have only continued to worsen.

In a statement on Thursday, the Hamas movement condemned the decision to postpone the legislative elections — there has been no word on the status of the Presidential elections, planned for July — saying that “voting is a fundamental national right.”

While Hamas maintained its position that voting should take place in East Jerusalem, the group  called on the Palestinian leadership to find ways to force “the elections in Jerusalem without the permission of or coordination with the occupation.”


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