David Miller
The Media Line
February 9, 2011 - 1:00am

Palestinian municipal elections called for this summer will likely accentuate the rivalry between Fatah and Hamas, Palestinian politicians said.

Fatah officially welcomed on Wednesday an announcement by the Palestinian cabinet to hold elections on July 9, the first in the Palestinian Authority since 2006. In a statement, Fatah said the elections would “forge political unity.”

Local elections were previously set to take place on July 17, 2010, but were postponed by the PA after Hamas refused to participate.

Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads since Hamas' political takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Reconciliation talks were mostly held under Egyptian brokerage but have been deadlocked for months, with a dispute over security cooperation with Israel cited as the main point of contention. Meanwhile, mutual arrest campaigns and intimidation of political rivals prevail both in Gaza and the West Bank.

Hussam Khader, a Fatah leader from Nablus, said that with Egypt immersed in its own political turmoil, the prospect of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation was further than ever.

"The divide will last for years," he told The Media Line. "Our people are victims of personal and party interests by individuals who try to deprive the Palestinians of their hopes and aspirations."

Khader added that under current conditions, Fatah will be the sole contender in the West Bank municipal elections in July, which will only widen the existing rift.

"Politically, elections are the only way to bridge the divide, but unfortunately they will only take place in the West Bank. Fatah will run alone, so the results will only strengthen the divide. I believe the Palestinian leadership should reconsider conducting elections in the current atmosphere."

Hamas won a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections of 2006 which were overseen by international observers, but Israel and many Western countries refused to recognize the results. PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who grudgingly agreed to cooperate with Hamas, formed a unity government with the Islamic party in February 2007, but in June of that year Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, purifying it from Fatah leaders.

Hamas, for its part, blasted the timing of the PA announcement, saying it was a blatant attempt to deflect public criticism from the Palestinian Authority.

"We believe that raising the issue at this time is an attempt to cover the publication of documents by Al-Jazeera, which have embarrassed the PA and its leadership," Sami Abu-Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza told Palestinian Information Center, referring to secret negotiation documents between Israel and the Palestinian Authority recently made public by the Qatar-based satellite network.

Municipal elections held in the West Bank and Gaza in 2004 and 2005 found Hamas and Fatah almost tied in the West Bank, with Hamas winning a clear majority in the Gaza Strip.

Abd Alhamid Abu-Hijab, a member of the central committee of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) in Gaza, a Marxist left-wing faction, said that a recent Palestinian Supreme Court decision left the PA no other choice but to hold elections.

"All Palestinian factions appealed to the court some months ago demanding elections," Abu-Hijab told The Media Line. "The court ruled against the PA, saying that elections were imperative to protect the citizens' interests."

Abu-Hijab said that municipal elections were less sensitive than parliamentary or presidential ones, since their main purpose was to serve people's most imperative daily problems.

"We hope the Hamas government will agree to elections, which will pave the way to reconciliation," Abu-Hijab added. "Today the top priority is ending the state of divide, especially in light of the regional developments and Israel's increasingly aggressive intentions."

But Hamas spokesman Abu-Zuhri echoed Fatah leader Khader, saying that elections at this time would consolidate the rift rather than solve it, since the Gaza Strip would be excluded from the process.


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