The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) held a panel discussion at its head-office in Gaza City on Wednesday, 16 October 2019, on the “Prospects for General Elections in Palestine under the Occupation and Political Division.” The call for the panel came in response to recent political developments, specifically the assurances made by Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that general elections will be held across the occupied Palestinian territory; he also confirmed that parties who refuse to cooperate would be held accountable. The President delegated Dr. Hanna Nasser, Central Elections Commission (CEC) Chief, to resume contact with Palestinian political factions and concerned authorities to prepare for parliamentary elections, to be followed by presidential elections as declared by CEC. The panel’s agenda was two-fold: a. is there a consensus by political factions on participating in the elections? b. Under the status quo, are elections possible in occupied East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip? Representatives of political factions, CEC, civil society organizations, academics, opinion writers and activists attended the panel.
PCHR Director, Raji Sourani, started the discussion outlining that talks on elections have not taken a legal direction yet, as no official presidential decree has been issued on the matter to this date. Sourani stressed that elections cannot take place without a national political and social consensus, as political will is the decisive factor for overcoming any legal or practical obstacles. He pondered on whether political factions are convinced that elections are the only solution for the current political crisis that has had regrettable implication for the Palestinian society and cause, warning that going ahead with elections without political agreement could re-invoke violence. Sourani concluded with a reminder of the stellar impression Palestinians had on the world with the 2006 general elections, hinting that Israel aims to sabotage Palestinian efforts for elections to tarnish the Palestinian people’s image; therefore, Israel should not be given the opportunity by holding the elections in a manner that reflects Palestinian values and cause.
Mr. Rassem al-‘Obidat, journalist and writer, who participated via phone from occupied East Jerusalem, had the opinion that holding elections now would deepen the crisis due to the lack of national consensus. He stated that the priority for Palestinians is to agree on key issues such as the abolition of the Oslo Accords, the conflict with the Israeli occupation, and routes towards Palestinian liberation. He expressed his doubts over the motives for proposing general elections now, indicating that it could be a mean to renew the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. Al-‘Obidat added that it would have been favorable for the PA to address the latest initiative by Palestinian factions for reconciliation than to call for elections which he doubted Hamas would agree to if it excluded the presidency and the national council.
Mr. Kayed al-Ghoul, member of the Political Bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), asserted that elections is a right for Palestinians, and necessary for renewing the political system to end the current crisis and monopoly of the executive. However, al-Ghoul doubted that the PA called for elections in fulfilment of Palestinians’ political rights, hinting that the call is in response to international pressure. Furthermore, al-Ghoul emphasized that the call for elections should be based on a national need to avoid the repetition of the 2006 events when the PA was forced to hold elections. He pondered on the reason the Palestinian President is insisting on holding parliamentary elections only; asserting that it is imperative for elections to be a result of national agreement expressing his fears that otherwise separation might loom in the horizon.
Mr. Emad al-Agha, Representative of Fatah Movement, emphasized that the Palestinian President’s decision to hold elections came to mobilize international support for holding the elections in Jerusalem, adding that elections is a joint demand, and the dispute is only over the details and procedures. Al-Agha did not see any problem in holding the parliamentary elections first and be followed by presidential elections, stressing there is no conflict between the calls for elections and the Palestinian factions’ initiative, which called for holding general elections as well. Al-Agha emphasized that everyone should work towards elections and ending the division at any cost. He added that the previous reconciliation agreements of 2011 and 2017 should be the entry points to hold elections.
Mr. ‘Aaed Yaghi, Representative of the National Initiative Movement, said that political situation in the Palestinian Territory is alarming, and holding elections requires unity because it is a constitutional entitlement for citizens and necessary for renewing legitimacies. However, Yaghi wondered what kind of elections would be held without national consensus. He believed that people should take a stand and pressurize the parties to the division to hold elections, underscoring that the key to this would be by calling all factions for a meeting to set a date for holding elections and forming a national committee to monitor them.
Mr. Muhsen Abu Ramadan, Director of the Arab Center for Agricultural Development, said that holding elections requires reconsidering the Palestinian political developments starting with the Oslo Accords which produced an authority with no dominance and an occupation with no costs. Abu Ramadan considered it a priority over discussions on details and procedures of holding elections. Abu Ramadan also warned of holding elections without reconciliation, fearing that the President’s decision was only a manoeuvre to perpetuate the status quo.
Ahmed al-Modalal, Representative of Islamic Jihad Movement, addressed the current dispute over the elections, denouncing the Palestinian President’s negligence of the eight Palestinian factions’ reconciliation initiative. Al-Modalal doubted the possibility of holding elections in Jerusalem due to the Israeli-American stubbornness as well as the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, believing that the PA in the West Bank would not be able to hold elections in many areas in the West Bank. Al-Modalal added that sending CEC to negotiate with the factions in order to hold elections is inappropriate because CEC is only an administrative body and not a decision-maker able to answer the factions’ inquiries. At the end, al-Modalal emphasized that the Islamic Jihad agrees with holding free and fair elections in a proper environment to ensure their success.
Mr. Talal Abu Tharifah, Representative of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, stressed that holding elections requires political will, believing that many issues should be clarified, particularly the law according to which elections should be held: would it be the 2005 Elections Law or the Palestinian President’s Law by Decree issued in 2007? He also emphasized that electoral systems should be unified and elections should be held with national consensus. Abu Tharifah stressed that free and fair elections should be held in a proper environment for the parliament, presidency and National Council.
Ms. Mariam Abu Daqqah, Member of the Political Bureau of PFLP, emphasized that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established prior to the PA and expressed the need to reconstruct and activate it first. At the end, she expressed her support for the eight Palestinian factions’ initiative to end the division.
Mr. Mohammed al-Telbani and Yehia Qa’oud, researchers, doubted the existence of any obstacles that would hinder holding elections, recalling that elections were previously held under the occupation, and the presidential and legislative elections were not held synchronously. Both researchers stressed that creating obstacles would maintain the status quo for good.
In this regard, the young activists backed the researchers’ opinions, expressing their aspirations of having elections to choose their representatives. They explained that a broad-cross category of young people did not vote in either general or local elections as the presidential elections were held in 2005 and the legislative elections were held in 2006. Those young people aspire to express their opinion freely and elect their representative to fulfil their ambitions in the next elections.
In conclusion, all the attendees emphasized the significance and need for holding elections with national consensus, as it would be the solution for ending the division and restoring the national unity.