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Palestinian Supreme Court halts municipal elections in the West Bank, Gaza Strip

Sept. 8, 2016 4:31 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 10, 2016 7:24 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) – The Palestinian Supreme Court in Ramallah Thursday ordered a halt on municipal elections in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip expected to be held on October 8.

The decision was made after a court in the Gaza Strip dropped five Fatah-affiliated candidates from participating in the local elections in the besieged enclave, a source from the Supreme Court told Ma’an. The Fatah-controlled Supreme Court said the decision was in response to several appeals submitted by lawyers challenging the legitimacy of elections that would not include East Jerusalem, while calling elections in the Gaza Strip “illegal.”

Lawyer Nael al-Houh had previously appealed to the Supreme Court to postpone local elections, claiming the elections would be illegitimate if only conducted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and not East Jerusalem, sources said.

The court decided to hold another session on December 21 to further discuss the appeal submitted by al-Houh, according to court sources.

The court order stated that any administrative procedure must be conducted in every region of Palestine. If not, then the elections could not be legitimate. Therefore, since elections in East Jerusalem would not take place, the elections in the West Bank and Gaza must also be halted.

Al-Houh’s appeal stated that conducting fragmented elections in territory that is supposed to be unified was a “constitutional violation,” and added that elections in the Gaza Strip are “supervised by illegal courts and judges.” However, it remained unclear what al-Houh was specifically referring to in the besieged Gaza Strip, where the last elections took place a decade ago when Hamas won in 2006.

A local court in the town of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip ruled on Thursday to drop five Fatah movement candidates from local elections.

The ruling came after several appeals against the movement’s candidate lists in Khan Younis city, al-Qarrara, al-Fukhari, Abasan al-Kabira in the Khan Younis district, and al-Shukeh area in Rafah City.

The ruling drops the Fatah movement lists from the ballot in nine out of 25 municipalities.

Spokesperson for the Fatah movement Fayiz Abu Aita condemned the court’s decision to drop Fatah’s lists in the Khan Younis district, telling Ma’an that the decision is part of a larger aim to help Hamas stay in power, and to "destroy the democratic process of the election."

Other lawyers had also demanded the Palestinian Supreme Court postpone elections in the West Bank, describing any local elections in the Gaza Strip as “illegal.”

The Central Elections Committee also responded on Thursday to the Supreme Court order, saying that the committee had carried out various electoral procedures for more than two months to create a fair election process and to gain support for the elections among Palestinians. However, all activities have now been suspended, the committee said.

A committee representative told Ma’an that the committee respects the court’s decision, and hopes that the process does not take long and elections are resumed soon.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian People's Party expressed its "sorrow" on Thursday in response to the Supreme Court decision, adding that the group had high hopes that the elections would serve to unify Palestinians and pave the way towards presidential elections. However, the group said the court's decision revealed a different reality where the future of unity and democracy has been eroded as a result of conflicts between Palestinian political parties.

The group called on political parties to end their conflicts immediately and requested that the Palestinian presidency and legislative council organize a "Palestinian central council" that could discuss the current political crisis.

Hamas, on the other hand, said that the court decision represented the bias nature of Palestinian elections tilted in Fatah's favor.

Hazem Qasem, spokesperson of the Hamas movement, told Ma'an that the Palestinian Supreme Court order is aimed at "saving Fatah" in the elections after the group dropped several of their candidates from the elections in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority-controlled cabinet in the West Bank, dominated by Hamas’ political rival Fatah, announced its decision to hold elections in June, but it remained uncertain whether Hamas and the Gaza Strip would be included in the process, after the movement boycotted the last local elections in 2012 in response to alleged corruption and intimidation among Fatah officials.

In July, Hamas announced their participation in municipal elections, paving the way for elections to be held for the first time in a decade in the small Palestinian territory.

Analysts had claimed that Hamas’ participation in local elections would have signaled the possibility of long-overdue general elections being held in the West Bank and Gaza.

The last elections in the Gaza Strip were held in 2006, when Hamas’ victory erupted into a violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah as both groups attempted to take control of the besieged coastal enclave.

Gaza was placed under an Israeli military siege in 2007 following Hamas' victory in the general elections and subsequent takeover of the government. The nearly decade-long siege has severely crippled the economy and further isolated the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinian territory.

The two parties reached a reconciliation agreement in 2014, but its practical implementation was met with failure as a result of Hamas’ wariness at relinquishing control of the Gaza Strip and numerous political disagreements between the two groups.

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