While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leaders are discussing how to end the national rift and embark on a move towards reconciliation, things look very different on the ground, where the schism is only getting worse.
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The PA announced after its meeting Tuesday in Bethlehem that elections for local councils and municipalities would take place on May 13, but only in the West Bank.
Abbas’ government accused Hamas of foiling any effort to hold elections in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is in charge, which led to their decision to restrict elections to their own backyard, the West Bank.
Hamas responded immediately, accusing the Fatah-run PA of perpetuating the rift by holding elections only in the West Bank. “This decision suits the aims of Fatah,” said a Hamas announcement.
The local elections were supposed to be held last October but were postponed due to a controversy between Hamas and Fatah. The two sides traded accusations, blaming each other for preventing those elections from taking place. Hamas claimed that the PA was preventing candidates’ lists associated with Hamas from contending freely in the West Bank, while lists associated with Fatah in Gaza were disqualified by courts operating under Hamas’ influence.
Holding local elections is considered a vital step that could prepare the ground for reconciliation, particularly since in local elections people tend to vote according to family and clan association. However, it has rapidly become apparent that the ongoing crisis is much more serious.
A senior Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, has said in the past that until there is reconciliation, no local or general elections can be held freely.
Power struggles between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas were further seen this week at a large gathering of Palestinians living in Europe, held in Istanbul. It called for stepping up the struggle against Israel and for adopting new strategies after the failure of diplomatic negotiations and security coordination with Israel. Hamas supported the gathering whereas the PA and Fatah said the conference was controlled by Turkey and Hamas, with the intent of hurting the status and influence of the PLO – the world Palestinian body that spawned the PA – as an organization that represents the Palestinian people wherever they live.