Gaza protest Egypt protests
Palestinians protest in Gaza. Photo by AP
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Spurred by the events in Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and its ruling Fatah party also promised to hold local elections, followed by general elections, very soon. Palestinian Minister of Local Government Khaled Qawasma made the announcement in midweek, adding that local elections would likely be held in May.

But Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said it would refuse to take part in the elections unless a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement is reached. Hamas officials said they do not trust the PA and Fatah to hold fair elections.

The PA’s announcement follows a prolonged legal and public campaign by the leftist democratic bloc to get elections called in the West Bank and Gaza. The struggle culminated in a petition by the bloc to the Palestinian High Court of Justice, which instructed the government in Ramallah on December 13, 2010 to set a date for elections immediately.

Thus every day the government fails to do so, it is violating the court order.

Mustafa Barghouti, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative Party, said the opposition bloc is already planning to file another petition.

The PA was supposed to hold local elections last July, but Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s government decided unexpectedly to postpone them, and effectively to cancel them.

PA spokesmen said the leaders of Arab states and “friends worldwide” had asked it to put off the elections, as they could hinder the reconciliation effort.

But both opposition and Fatah sources said Fatah had pushed to postpone the elections because it had failed to form candidates’ lists in important municipalities. Fatah feared elections would prove the movement had not recovered from its defeat in the 2006 general election.

In contrast, three major opposition parties − the National Initiative, the Popular Front and the People’s Party − overcame their leaders’ personal and political disagreements and put together joint lists in more than 100 municipalities.

Activists in the leftist democratic bloc rejected the claim that elections in the West Bank alone would deepen the split between the West Bank and Gaza.

“If Hamas and Fatah want to sabotage democracy, should we agree?” asked Omar Nazel, spokesman for the joint Homeland for All list.

Barghouti said local elections could be held in stages, and efforts were underway to persuade the Hamas government to enable elections to be held in Gaza, too.