Adam Gonn
February 15, 2011 - 1:00am

Palestinians will head for the polls by September for presidential and legislative elections, according to an announcement by an aide to Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas.

Fatah member Yasser Abed Rabbo called on parties to put aside all of their differences and to focus on conducting the elections in September at the latest.

However, Hamas, who controls the Gaza Strip, has already rejected the idea and claimed that Abbas does not have the authority to decide when to hold elections, since his four-year term as president ended in 2009.

Analysts told Xinhua Monday that the unrest in Egypt may have triggered the call for elections, and could also very well affect the election outcome depending on future developments in Palestinian areas.

Some others questioned the decision to hold elections soon, saying that the Palestinians should wait until the United Nations recognizes them as a state.


Mahdi Abdul Hady, the chairman of the Palestine Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in Jerusalem, told Xinhua that the elections may take place, but Hamas may not take part.

"The Palestinian National Authority may be using elections as a way to meet the expectation of the society, taking into consideration the issues in the streets of Tunis and Cairo and the impact on the Palestinians' desire for change," Hady said.

However, "Hamas and some conservatives are saying that you can' t hold election with the separation of Gaza and the West Bank; you need to do the reconciliation first," according to Hady.

"If the PNA receives some international support, they will hold a municipal election first as a test," Hady said, "If it succeeds, they can build on it for the national one."


Dr. Gershon Baskin, the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, said if the Palestinians are determined to have elections, it would be better to wait until they have declared statehood, which some analysts expect to happen in 2012.

As to the split between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza, Baskin said it's possible to hold elections in the West Bank in order to box Hamas in, to demonstrate to the Palestinian people that Hamas is not democratic and doesn't respect the will of the people, and in that way try to force Hamas into elections as well.

"I don't see the point in holding elections under the current state of political affairs, regarding the split of authority between Gaza and the West Bank," Baskin said, "but the Palestinians are moving towards acquiring international recognition of the existence of the Palestinian state."

Abbas worked hard over the last year on a strategy meant to win international recognition of the Palestinian statehood from as many countries as possible.

"Then holding elections for the government of the state of Palestine makes sense, because the whole point of the exercise that they are engaged in now is to transform themselves into a state, which means that they have to act like a state," Baskin said.


Dr. Jamil Rabah, the co-director of Ramallah-based polling group Near East Consulting, told Xinhua his surveys show that the outcome of the election may depend much on Fatah's ability to run as a unified party with everyone towing the same line.

"So far Fatah seems to be in the higher position on the factional level," Rabah said, adding that fragmentation may happen in the vote as Fatah is not as disciplined and coherent as other parties.

"Their ideological orientation is pretty wide. It's a movement more so than a party," Rabah said.

The outcome will be highly affected by factors such as which candidates run for Fatah and whether they are able to present a unified position.

"If they did it properly with a certain level of consensus, I think Fatah would win," Rabah said, "However, if people within Fatah would start to run against the party line, that would be problematic."

All this, of course, depends on whether Hamas will run or not, Rabah said, noting that almost half of the eligible Palestinian voters are independents, and new parties may rise inspired by the events in Egypt.

The surveys, conducted in both the West Bank and Gaza, show that "support for Fatah in Gaza is pretty consistent and strong, because a lot of people are dissatisfied with the performance of Hamas," Rabah said.

However, he pointed out that a lot may change in light of the developments in Egypt and the willingness of the new Egyptian government to allow the border with Gaza to be more open.


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