The prospect of the first Palestinian elections in 15 years came closer to becoming reality on Tuesday with a joint statement by Palestinian factions, chief among them Fatah and Hamas, in Cairo that greenlit moving forward according to a plan approved last month by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
During a meeting held under the auspices of Egyptian intelligence officials, the parties agreed to hold elections on dates announced by Abbas – elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council on May 22, for president on July 31 and for the Palestinian National Council on August 31. The elections are to be held in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
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The parties said in the joint statement that they had agreed to establish an organizing committee and a tribunal that would deal with transparency and fairness of the elections. The tribunal is to consist of judges appointed by consensus in the near future, and it will have the authority to oversee the election and confirm the results. Security for the elections will be the responsibility of the Palestinian police, which, like other Palestinian security agencies, will not be permitted to interfere in the elections or campaigns.
The parties agreed to allow all the candidates full freedom of expression, in an attempt to set aside the rifts in Palestinian society. It has also been agreed to ensure representation to women, prisoners and residents of refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. Refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan will not take part in the elections. Members of Islamic Jihad announced that they will not run in the elections, saying they place according to a plan set by the Oslo Accords, which they oppose. However, they pledged not to disrupt them.
Many in Fatah and Hamas who were skeptical about the possibility of elections say they have seen a shift recently, and are adjusting their assessment of the chances the elections will take place. Sources told Haaretz that they believed Abbas and Hamas want the elections to take place, although there are obstacles: Israel’s consent, especially in East Jerusalem; pressure and clashes of interests between foreign countries, including Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt; and the ability of the parties to respect the outcome.
Palestinian officials said the solution to the East Jerusalem question would be online voting or appointing agreed-upon representatives to parliament. As for the issue of foreign countries, sources in Ramallah and Gaza said that a green light from the United States and Europe would legitimize the elections. However, from the point of view of internal relations, it is unknown whether agreement reached between Hamas and Fatah could be the basis for Palestinian unity diplomatic issues vis-a-vis Israel and the United States.
This week, the Arab League gave its support to the Palestinians' diplomatic position when a statement by members' foreign ministers adopted the Palestinian position on the two-state solution, the right to self-determination, the Arab peace initiative and the status of East Jerusalem. Officials in Ramallah were surprised by the statement, and a Palestinian diplomat told Haaretz that its declarative significance was great, after many Arab countries grew closer to Israel over the past year and it seemed that the Arab united front on the Palestinian issue was crumbling. According to the diplomat, the situation reflects a change associated with the change of administration in Washington, which from the Palestinian perspective might set the stage for a renewal of the diplomatic process after elections in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority, if they take place as planned.