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PA to hold local elections in West Bank only, after Hamas refuses to participate in Gaza

Feb. 28, 2017 4:08 P.M. (Updated: March 1, 2017 2:01 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) has decided to hold local elections in the occupied West Bank on May 13 as scheduled, while excluding Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip from taking part.

During the PA’s weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday in Bethlehem, it was decided that elections in Gaza would be postponed “indefinitely." It remained unclear whether occupied East Jerusalem would be included in the municipal electoral process.

After the PA announced at the end of last month that local elections would be scheduled in both the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas, the de facto ruling party of Gaza, along with the Islamic Jihad movement, promptly rejected the plan, saying that elections should only take place after the more than decade-long rivalry between Hamas and Fatah comes to an end and reconciliation is achieved.

Spokesperson of Hamas Abd al-Latif al-Qanu reacted to the outcome of the PA’s cabinet meeting, saying the decision to carry on with elections without the Gaza Strip “entrenches political divisions and asserts Fatah’s supremacy in decision making.”

Al-Qanu argued that the decision worked counter to building foundations for social partnerships, explaining that “when it became clear that there was no longer a goal toward establishing national unity, the Hamas movement decided not to take part in elections in this context of persisting divisions.”

He added that the consensus government should have considered the interests of all the Palestinian people instead, saying he held the Fatah movement responsible for the failure to hold elections in the Gaza Strip.

Al-Qanu pointed out that Hamas had informed Hanna Nasser, the head of the Central Elections Commission (CEC), of its stance.

The PA said in its statement that it would continue to seek dialogue with Hamas in hopes that the group would agree to allow elections in Gaza.

Meanwhile, a PA statement released at the conclusion of the cabinet meeting quoted Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah as applauding the decision to hold the meeting near Solomon’s Pools in Bethlehem, "in defiance of the repeated attempts by Israeli settlers to storm the site under Israeli military protection," giving a detailed description of the historical significance of the water system that was established in the Roman era.

The end of his statement did mention that his government decided to uphold the Jan. 31 cabinet decision to hold elections on May 13, adding that elections in the Gaza Strip "won't be doable" as a result of Hamas’ refusal.

Hamdallah had previously said that if Hamas objected to the elections, they would carry on exclusively in the West Bank.

The PA statement added that the CEC had met with Hamas officials and failed to convince the movement to allow elections in the besieged coastal enclave.

Hamdallah has reportedly encouraged Hamas to participate in the elections, and urged Hamas to accept PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ initiative to form a national unity government in order to pave the way toward future presidential and legislative elections.

Municipal elections set to be held last October were postponed with the intent of holding them in the entire occupied Palestinian territory, following backlash over a PA Supreme Court ruling to exclude the Gaza Strip from the elections altogether.

Prior to their cancellation, the municipal elections were set to be the first in the Gaza Strip in a decade, after Hamas’ victory in the 2006 vote erupted into a violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah, as both groups attempted to take control of the besieged coastal enclave.

A poll released by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) at the time found that 61 percent of respondents were displeased by the Supreme Court’s initial decision to postpone the municipal elections, with 60 percent believing that the decision was politically motivated.

Fatah and Hamas have been embroiled in conflict since Hamas' election victory in 2006 elections in the Gaza Strip, which erupted into a violent conflict between the two movements as both attempted to consolidate control over the territory.

Despite numerous attempts at reconciling the groups, Palestinian leadership has repeatedly failed to follow through on promises of reconciliation and holding long-overdue elections, as both movements have frequently blamed each other for numerous political failures.

Officials from the Fatah-led PA have criticized Hamas for creating a shadow government in the Gaza Strip and blocking efforts to reach political unity.

Hamas has in turn accused the PA of executing a plan to "eradicate" the movement from the West Bank, accusing Fatah of “escalating security collaboration” with the Israeli authorities through politically-motivated arrests and “adopting a revolving door policy" funneling Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons.
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