Ramallah High Court issued a decision on Monday, 03 October 2016, upholding the application of the Council of Ministers’ decision to hold elections in the West Bank but not in the Gaza Strip “because of the current judicial situation”, pointing to the unlawfulness of the Gaza Strip courts that were formed in violation of the law. This decision was followed by a recommendation from the Central Elections Commission (CEC) to defer the elections for 6 months “During which, the internal situation should be reformed and the relevant laws should be tackled to serve the higher interest of the Palestinian people”. Today, the Council of Ministers decided to defer the elections for 4 months seemingly in response to the aforementioned recommendation.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) believes that holding the elections simultaneously in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is important to put an end to the Palestinian split and to confront the Israeli schemes aiming at isolating the Gaza Strip and deepening the split that will make the chance of establishing a Palestinian State impossible. PCHR further stresses that excluding the Gaza Strip from the elections will definitely intensify the internal split and tension between the two parties to the split, which will result in serious consequences on human rights and democracy in the PA. this will coincide with surrendering to the Israeli attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause and rights, particularly the right to self-determination.
In view of the above, PCHR welcomes the Council of Ministers’ decision taken today to defer the elections until the circumstances are convenient for the Gaza Strip’s participation. PCHR believes this is a positive step if being committed to away from procrastination. Moreover, PCHR calls upon all parties to jointly work on overcoming any obstacles to guarantee holding the elections in the Gaza Strip.
According to PCHR’s follow-up, the High Court’s decision and justifications were as follows:
“Because of the impossibility of holding the elections in the Gaza Strip due to the current judicial situation although this does not justify suspending the elections in the Gaza Strip or other areas until further notice; to maintain the administrative and legal status, the safety of civilians and civil peace; to avoid a deeper split; and to calm the whole Palestinian people down that their chance to participate in the elections will not be neglected because if so, the public interest will be neglected too. For all of this, the Court decided: 1. Applying the Council of Ministers’ decision no. (3Z/108/17/M.W/R.H) 2016 to hold elections of local councils in all parts of the homeland, excluding the Gaza Strip, for the abovementioned reasons…”
It should be noted that Council of Ministers issued a decision on 21 June 2016 to hold the local council elections in all of the PA-controlled areas. After that, CEC announced it was prepared and published the timeline of the whole electoral process that was followed up until the stage preceding the publication of the final electoral lists. However, the elections were temporarily suspended upon a decision from Ramallah High Court on 08 September 2016 to consider the objection filed to the Court by a lawyer, who registered his lawsuit at the Court on 17 August 2016 and amended it after he became a representative of the representatives and candidates of the electoral lists in the Gaza Strip. The lawyer built his objection on the unavailability of the security conditions necessary for the elections in light of the performance of Hamas security services that were described as “unlawful” by the claimant. The lawyer’s objection was also based on the unavailability of lawful courts formed in conformity with the law in the Gaza Strip before which objections can be filed concerning the CEC’s decisions to reject certain electoral lists. He considered this as a violation of the candidates’ rights that undermines the whole electoral process.
It should be noted that the democratic process in Palestine was disrupted due to the split in 2007. In addition, the legislative and presidential elections that were scheduled in 2010 have not been held yet. Moreover, the local council elections have not been held in the Gaza Strip since 2005 though they were held in the West Bank in 2012. Furthermore, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) was entirely obstructed and the municipalities in the Gaza Strip were administrated by non-elected councils. However, there are elected municipalities in the West Bank but the elections were not held in convenient atmosphere as Hamas Movement representing the vast bloc in the local council elections held in 2005 boycotted the elections then.
PCHR stresses that elections are a constitutional right according to article 26 of the Palestinian Basic Law and a basic human right according to article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) binding to the Palestinian Authority. The authorities and Council of Ministers should work hard to guarantee that all civilians enjoy this right throughout the country. Therefore, PCHR:
- Urges the Council of Ministers to make prompt arrangements to the current situation in order to simultaneously hold the elections in the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip;
- Demands the political parties to reach an agreement regarding the competent courts in the Gaza Strip to consider the objections. Moreover, these parties can agree on establishing special courts for this purpose upon a decision that has the power of the law issued by the Palestinian President if necessary to amend the Local Council Elections Law 2005;
- Calls upon parties signing the Code of Conduct for the local council elections to practice pressure on the two parties to the split for the smooth running of the elections in the Gaza Strip;
- Calls upon political parties and particularly parties to the spilt to be committed to the democratic process through joint work to guarantee holding the local elections in preparation for holding the legislative and presidential elections; and
- Demands the parties to the split to unify the Palestinian judiciary in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as proved to be the most important step towards ending the split more than ever.