Palestinian Government Postpones Elections Until Beginning of 2017

Tensions between West Bank's Fatah and Gaza's Hamas mar first Palestinian exercise in democracy in a decade.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks to the media in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 23, 2016.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks to the media in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 23, 2016. Mohamad Torokman, Reuters

A day after the Palestinian High Court ruled to exclude the Gaza Strip from the local elections - the first in almost a ten years - the Palestinian government in Ramallah decided Tuesday to postpone the vote by four months, until the beginning of 2017, in a move that will will likely heighten inter-Palestinian tensions.

The Palestinian Authority's Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Palestinian local elections will take place, but only in the West Bank and not Gaza, as tensions between Fatah and Hamas continued to mar what was to be the first democratic exercise in the Palestinian territories in a decade.

In wake of the ruling, the Palestinian Authority's Central Election Committee recommended Tuesday to postpone the elections by six months so a compromise could be found to permit the local elections to go ahead in Gaza. The committee noted that they respect the top court's ruling, but said that "de facto, in the current environment, it is impossible to hold a vote and to remove Gaza from the equation."

File photo: A Palestinian police officer fills in his ballot before casting it in parliamentary elections in the West Bank city of Nablus in 2006.
Emilio Morenatti, AP

On Tuesday morning, the government partially accepted their recommendation, and decided to move the vote by four months to February. Hamas blasted the decision, labeling it an attempt to renege democratic responsibilities and avoid a negative outcome for Fatah.  

At the beginning of the month, the court froze the local elections in the West Bank and Gaza slated for October due to what it described as serious irregularities – chiefly a court ruling in Gaza to remove candidate slates identified with Fatah in Gaza, and the exclusion of East Jerusalem from the election process.

But in its latest ruling, which Hamas swiftly condemned as politically motivated, the court said it could not accept the Gaza court's ruling or a situation in which there were two separate legal systems, and thus "decided to implement the cabinet's decision to hold elections in all local councils except in the Gaza Strip."

Hamas' faction in the Palestinian parliament said the ruling was an attempt by Fatah prevent an embarrassing loss, and to cover up the crisis within the party.

Election officials prepare to count ballots after the polls closed
Reuters

"Hamas rejects the court's decision that divides the Palestinian people and will consult with other factions on how to confront it," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, with another blasted the ruling as a "politicization" of the court system.

While local elections were held in 2012, voting only took place in a fraction of the West Bank's 350 municipalities, and Hamas did not recognize the outcome.

Palestinian sources told Haaretz that the election process was seriously harmed when the Gaza courts, which are essentially Hamas-run, decided to annul the lists of candidates associated with Fatah in Gaza.

 “These are courts that are illegitimate and they made an illegitimate decision, and so the PA Supreme Court cannot accept a situation in which there are two separate court systems: one in the state of Gaza Strip and another in the state of the West Bank," they said.

ANALYSIS: Will Hamas participation in West Bank elections mend political rift?

"It’s clear that the Palestinian split and the deep rift between Fatah and Hamas is the main cause of the harm to the election process. From the start it would have been difficult to hold the election given this situation,” a legal analyst in the PA told Haaretz.

“Anyone who thought the local elections would help bring about reconciliation was evidently mistaken,” he added.

Palestinian elections for more than 400 municipal and local councils were  scheduled to take place on October 8 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Presidential and parliamentary elections have not been held for over a decade, ever since Hamas surprised the Palestinian Authority and the experts by winning the 2006 parliamentary election.