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Palestinian Supreme Court rules to hold local elections in West Bank, but not in Gaza

Oct. 3, 2016 1:33 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 4, 2016 12:41 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Supreme Court ruled on Monday that local elections would be held in the occupied West Bank, but not in the Gaza Strip.

The court ruled during a two-hour court hearing in Ramallah that elections couldn't be held in the besieged Gaza Strip because courts operating there are "illegal."

On Sept. 8, the Supreme Court ordered a halt on municipal elections in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip that were scheduled to be held on Oct. 8.

The Fatah-controlled Supreme Court said at the time that the decision was in response to several appeals submitted by lawyers challenging the legitimacy of elections that would not include occupied East Jerusalem, stating that any administrative procedure must be conducted in every region of Palestine.

It remained unclear at publishing time whether municipal elections would be held in East Jerusalem, and why the Supreme Court seemingly decided to go back on its previous statement regarding the need to include all the Palestinian territory in the vote.

Lawyer Nael al-Huh, who originally appealed to the Supreme Court to postpone elections, told Ma'an that the court had ruled that certain procedures needed to be taken in the Gaza Strip before elections can be held.

The head of the Palestinian union of lawyers, Hussein Shabana, said the Supreme Court decision meant the Central Elections Commission (CEC) should be ready to hold elections at any given date. In the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority cabinet will set a date for elections if the "context is healthy for elections," Shabana added, without elaborating.

The Hamas movement accused its rival, the Fatah political party, of being behind the Supreme Court decision.

“The judicial order to hold local elections in the West Bank and not in the Gaza Strip is deeply politicized and ordered by the will of Fatah” Hamas said in a statement, claiming that the move was an attempt by Fatah to escape elections after failing to come up with competent electoral list.

Hamas further accused the Palestinian Authority of being biased in favor of Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, at the expense of the representation of all Palestinian citizens.

Meanwhile, Hamas politburo deputy chief Mousa Abu Marzuq posted on Twitter that the Supreme Court decision was politicized and deepened the fracture in Palestinian politics.

The Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) party also slammed the decision, saying in a statement that the ruling “conflicted with the national and democratic interests of the Palestinian people and stood in the way of holding the first unified elections across the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 2006, which could have opened the door into holding legislative, presidential, and national council elections.”

PNI also asserted that holding unified elections could have encouraged further efforts towards achieving national reconciliation based on democratic participation, adding that the Supreme Court's ruling to exclude the Gaza Strip would only deepen a national conflict that the Palestinian people have long been eager to end.

“We cannot deprive our sons and daughters in Gaza Strip of their natural right to participate in local elections,” the statement said.

According to PNI, the allegations presented by the Supreme Court justifying the exclusion of Gaza from elections were “legally unconvincing,” and proved that the court’s order had political motives.

Meanwhile, the left-wing Palestinian People’s Party (PPP) said in a statement that the Supreme Court’s ruling reflected the current crises facing the Palestinian political system, which impacted the Palestinian people’s daily reality on a social, political, and economic level.

The party called to hold elections in all local councils and guarantee the right of all Palestinian citizens to participate in the electoral process, adding that discussions were scheduled to be held between left-wing parties, Fatah, and Hamas to reach an agreement to this end.

Later Monday evening, the CEC said it held an urgent meeting over the ruling, which was attended by all committee members via video conference.

In a statement released following the meeting, the CEC expressed its “respect” for the Supreme Court’s order, but asserted that excluding the Gaza Strip from elections would only worsen the Palestinian political situation.

In a message directed at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the CEC recommended postponing local elections in the West Bank for six months to allow time to manage the electoral process in a way that served the national interests of Palestine.

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

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.
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