Photo Credit: Majdi Fathi/TPS
Thousands of people holding flags and chairman Mahmoud Abbas's portraits, participating in a rally in Gaza City, marking the 55th anniversary of the Fatah movement foundation. Gaza, Jan 1, 2020.

{Reposted from the JCPA website}

The PA launched an international campaign against Israel to bully and force it to agree to the participation of east Jerusalem residents in parliamentary elections on May 22, 2021.

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At a meeting of the Palestinian government, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh revealed that the Palestinian Authority had sent letters on the issue to the UN, the European Union, the United States, and Russia, explaining that from their perspective, there was no impediment to allowing east Jerusalem residents to participate in the elections as they did in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Wasel Abu Yousuf, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said that the participation of east Jerusalem residents in the parliamentary elections was of great importance when Israel was trying to make the city its unified capital.

Senior PA officials say that the PA wants to use the campaign for the participation of east Jerusalem residents to quash and erase the Trump administration’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The PA sent an official letter to Israel in February of this year requesting its approval for the participation of east Jerusalem residents in the elections. Israel responded with an official letter that a response would be given after the Knesset elections. The PA has not received any official response from Israel. The EU also appealed to Israel’s Minister of Justice last month to approve of the arrival of international observers to the West Bank and east Jerusalem in preparation for the elections.

The EU has not received a response from Israel, either. However, Israel’s political echelon dispatched General Security Services (SHABAK) Chief Nadav Argaman to Ramallah for a meeting with the PA chairman, insisting that he cancel the elections due to the danger of Hamas participation for the security of the PA and Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas rejected the Israeli demand outright, and he also turned down a similar request from Egypt and Jordan.

Meanwhile, things have gotten complicated inside the Fatah arena: Marwan Barghouti (sitting in prison for five terrorist murders) decided to establish a joint list with Nasser al-Qudwa (Yasser Arafat’s nephew) to run in the parliamentary elections, which threatens to overwhelm Mahmoud Abbas’ party list.  In this scenario, the Fatah movement will run on three separate tickets (led by Mahmoud Abbas, Barghouti/al-Qudwa, and Muhammad Dahlan). This split will weaken Fatah and increase Hamas’ chances of winning the elections.

Mahmoud Abbas’ Options

Mahmoud Abbas does not give up, although he is in a severe political predicament. He continues to offer enticements to Marwan Barghouti to withdraw from the joint list with al-Qudwa, but senior figures in Fatah, who fear losing the elections, demand that Mahmoud Abbas postpone or cancel the elections.

Israel’s security cabinet has not yet convened to discuss east Jerusalem residents participating in the elections, but there is a consensus in the security establishment that the Palestinian elections are dangerous for Israel. After the head of the GSS was sent to warn the PA chairman, it is unlikely that the political echelon in Israel will change its mind, going against the recommendations of the security establishment and approving the participation of east Jerusalem residents in the elections.

It is possible that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas appreciates the danger as well, and, therefore, he ordered the political campaign against Israel over east Jerusalem to show the residents of the territories that he is fighting to the end on the issue of Jerusalem, the “red line” for the Palestinians. This campaign can serve as the ladder that will allow him to climb down from the electoral tree.  He will then rationalize the elections’ postponement, having tried all possible ways to get east Jerusalem to participate in the elections, but with no success.

On April 5, 2021, the PA chairman left for Jordan and then Germany for medical treatment, and he was scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On April 7, the German Deputy Government Spokesperson said, “their personal meeting during Abbas’ visit in Berlin this week did not take place due to the pandemic-related issues and Merkel’s busy schedule.”1

The PA insists that the condition of 86-year-old Mahmoud Abbas is good and that his medical visit was for a routine scheduled appointment. The PA rejects the possibility that the medical treatment was intended to prepare Palestinian public opinion that the elections have to be postponed due to Abbas’ medical condition. Those explanations should be treated with caution. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to return to Ramallah on Thursday, April 8, and any change in the schedule would flash red lights regarding his medical condition and the future of the elections.

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Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.