Indefinite postponement for Palestinian West Bank local + muncipal elections

Palestinian local and municipal elections set for 17 July in the Israeli-occupied West Bank were suddenly and abruptly postponed indefinitely on Thursday 11 June.

In the absence of an official explanation, there were many others. The most credible was that Fatah learned, through polls, that it would not win, even though Hamas had said it would boycott the balloting, which would have been held only in the West Bank.

The earlier calculation was that these elections would bring a clear victory for Fatah and secular leftist forces in the West Bank, which would bring a new Hamas-free local government across the Israeli-occupied territory — paving the way for a new era.

But, many Palestinians scorned this tactic as unfair and undemocratic.

In February, shortly after the local elections (which have now been postponed) had been scheduled for 17 July, the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) said it “absolutely rejects holding elections in local council, or any other elections, whose results are known in advance. Under the current situation, the results of such elections and the identities of winning political parties are known even before holding such elections”.

PCHR spelled out the problem with unusual frankness in its February statement: “the Palestinian Government in Gaza is not expected to accept holding local elections in Gaza based on a decision taken by the Government in Ramallah. Subsequently, the decision taken by the Cabinet in Ramallah, if implemented, will be effectively applied to local councils in the West Bank only, and no elections will be held at the same time in the Gaza Strip; a fact which the Government in Ramallah realizes. It is impossible to hold transparent and impartial elections that reflect the electorate’s will without providing appropriate conditions and freeing public liberties, which means stopping human rights violations, including stopping political arrests; respecting the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to freedom of association; and ensuring free political activities for all political parties and factions. These conditions are not available now in the Palestinian arena under the ongoing political division, which has caused unprecedented deterioration in the human rights situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip”.

But, in the meantime, there were more complications.

Word on the Palestinian street was that there was big trouble in Nablus, where one politician (Ghassan ash-Shakaa) would not withdraw his candidacy even though Fatah had selected an alternative list of candidates, reportedly headed by Amin Makboul (1st Secretary of the Fatah Revolutionary Council since difficult elections at Fatah’s sixth General Conference last August in Bethlehem — the first in over 16 years).

A multiplicity of Fatah candidacies is one of the reasons cited for its defeat in Palestinian national elections (PA President and PA Legislative Council) held in Gaza in January 2006.

The decision to cancel the elections was reportedly made in the Fatah headquarters in Ramallah on Wednesday afternoon and evening.

But it was formally taken at a meeting of the Palestinian Authority Cabinet (which, though dominated by Fatah, includes representatives of other political factions as well) on Thursday — and it is not clear why the PA Government approved this decision.

News reports emerged on Friday, of varying degrees of silliness (this is a highly-charged and controversial topic, which means that Palestinian journalists are being careful and hedging their bets). One report, for example, was that the decision was taken by the Palestinian Authority ministers in response to requests from “Arab and regional” (does this mean Turkey? Iran? Israel?) countries.

“This is the stupidest move by Fatah, which thinks nobody else exists but them. They still don’t look beyond their noses”, said one well-informed Palestinian in Ramallah. “This is so damaging for anybody who wants a democracy here”.

As a result of what happened in the Fatah Sixth General Conference in Bethlehem last August, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) consolidated his hold on all three main reins of Palestinian political powers — heading Fatah by acclamation, the P.L.O. by consensus agreement, and the Palestinian Authority by elections held in January 2005, following the death of Yasser Arafat, giving Abbas a mandate which many believe expired in January 2009 — at the very latest by January 2010.

Following the Fatah Conference in Bethlehem, preparations were supposedly being made for national elections (for PA President + Legislative Council). Abu Mazen issued a Presidential decree proclaiming national elections on 24 October, which were to take place on 24 January.

Then, there was the Goldstone report fiasco, after which Abu Mazen made a big speech saying he would not run again for office. Then, the Palestinian national elections were postponed indefinitely… and Abu Mazen will stay in office as a caretaker until these elections are held.

A decent interval later, West Bank local and municipal elections were announced — but then there was the scandal involving the President’s chief of staff, which was actually known to the President 18 months earlier.

Two investigative committees were constituted, in turn, one for how the Goldstone report was handled, and one for the sex tapes scandal — but their reports were never published.

So, on Thursday, the West Bank local elections were postponed — a decision that was formalized behind closed doors in Fatah Headquarters in Ramallah a day earlier.

The fallout is utterly unpredictable.

UPDATE: YNet’s Ali Waked reported on Monday 7 April that this postponement might happen.  According to Waked’s account, “The Fatah movement is considering filing an appeal with the Elections Committee and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in an effort to postpone the local elections in the Palestinian Authority due to internal disagreement and division within the faction … The Fatah hasn’t been able to reach an agreement over the candidates for many of the municipalities and councils, and in many places a list of senior Fatah officials is expected to run against the movement’s official list.  The Palestinian Central Committee has failed in their efforts to reconcile the camps, and some fear Fatah’s image might significantly be jeopardized over the internal rift … In the upcoming hours and days Fatah will consider appeasing angry party members who are threatening to run independently. If this measure does not work, the faction will officially appeal to the elections committee in an effort to postpone elections. ‘The Palestinian street will not be happy about delaying the election, but it is better than being humiliated and receiving a huge blow’, added the source”.

The YNet story by Ali Waked also described other problems as well: “The Fatah has also failed to ward off pressures mounted by the large local clans.  The clans, who have witnessed their influence decline both on the national and governmental levels, consequently held on to the local authorities with all their power.  ‘The clans in Hebron have made it clear that they are not interested in factional elections, but rather in the division of the council according to a clan hierarchy’, a Fatah source told Ynet.  ‘People in the clans told us: ‘Fatah, Hamas, we don’t care about any of these. We want our own people regardless of their party affiliation’, the source said, adding, ‘No one so far has had the courage to confront the clans, and according to estimations the elections in Hebron will be clan-based and not according to party distribution’.”

And, Waked noted, “Another matter that is pushing the Fatah to postpone elections is the fear that Hamas supporters will back Fatah opponents, despite Hamas’ official announcement that it will boycott the elections. ‘We are concerned that in many places, especially where Fatah is weak and divided, the Hamas will tell its supporters to vote for our opponents, which will ensure Fatah’s defeat in the elections’, said the source”. This was reported here.

UPDATE: The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza said in a statement on 15 June that “the lack of a national agreement on the issue of elections (presidential, legislative and local) and the unprecedented deterioration of the human rights situation can never lead to free, fair and transparent elections”.

3 thoughts on “Indefinite postponement for Palestinian West Bank local + muncipal elections”

  1. I hope you will write about another of yesterday’s news events. A Palestinian man was shot in Wadi Joz because the boarder police said that he tried to run them over as they set up a “flying checkpoint.” Of course they already are calling him a terrorist, but I knew that man and don’t believe for a moment that he intended to attack anyone. He was a devoted family man who had plans later in the day with his wife and 3 lovely daughters. (Who are all American citizens, by the way. His wife is not Palestinian originally.) Ma’an seems to be the only website that is reporting any of the eye witnesses’ stories.

    I hope someone will bring the truth out.

  2. Thanks for this – do you know any of the details? Was any family member with him?

    It is unfortunately not very credible that anyone in Wadi Joz would try to run over one or more Israeli Border Policemen as they set up a flying checkpoint.

    It is terrifying to think that Border Police would be shooting so wildly in such a populated area — and that a small child waiting in a car nearby was shot in the neck by a flying bullet.

    I was in Wadi Joz myself yesterday at around that time, and was not aware of anything. I did see the white police surveillance blimp hovering overhead because of the Israeli alert before Friday prayers. That blimp must have recorded what happened…

  3. His cousin lives in that neighborhood, and tried to go to Ziad after he got shot, and was beaten badly.

    There are further articles here

    They have some basic facts wrong, like Ziad was 41 and only had 3 daughters.

    The AP has a story with some pictures, that is getting picked up by other sites.

    But they have only written the Israeli version of the events, and have even mislabeled one of the pictures of his daughters. And I cannot see any place to post a comment or correction on their site, so this load of partial truths and innuendos is getting spread all over the world. His poor wife, who is American and speaks only English, is struggling to find out what happened exactly and clear her husband’s name, all while she has to deal with her own and her daughters’ grief.

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