Palestinian Court Rules to Exclude Gaza From Elections as Infighting Continues

After Abbas' Fatah party – which rules in West Bank – was barred from participating in vote in Gaza – where Hamas holds control – Palestinians top court cancels election in Strip.

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

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 first democratic exercise in the Palestinian territories in a decade.

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."

According to sources in Ramallah, the elections will most likely be held in November and at this stage will also not include East Jerusalem.

"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.

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

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.