The Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported Tuesday morning that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has informed the European Union, Jordan, and Egypt of his decision to cancel the 2021 Palestinian legislative election, which was scheduled for May 22.
Abbas clarified at a Monday night meeting of the Fatah Central Committee: “We will in no way agree to hold general elections without Jerusalem and its residents,” and urged the international community to put pressure on Israel to allow PA residents living in eastern Jerusalem to vote.
It should be noted that the Palestinian Authority’s Central Elections Commission (CEC) has set up 11 polling stations to serve 150,000 eligible voters from eastern Jerusalem who live in the city’s suburbs – out of a total of about 300,000 Arabs who are in the city (PA Elections Commission Says 150,000 Eastern Jerusalem Arabs Will Vote in 11 Polling Stations).
An Abbas “presidential order” postponing next month’s election is expected to be published by the end of the week, following the PA leadership meeting in Ramallah scheduled for Thursday evening. The postponement order is not expected to set a new election date.
The deadline for submitting lists of candidates for the Palestinian parliament ended a month ago, and 36 slates were registered with the Central Election Commission. Of those, four are considered to receive most of the votes: the official Fatah list, the Marwan Barghouti Fatah list, the Muhammad Dahlan Fatah list, and the Hamas list. From the moment the lists were finalized, it became clear that with Fatah divided into three factions, Hamas has a very high chance of easily winning a majority in parliament. In fact, this scenario is almost identical to what happened in the previous Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, which ended in a Hamas victory and was followed by a Hamas coup in Gaza that resulted in two rival political entities to this day.
From the moment the lists were announced, the Fatah leadership in Ramallah understood that the democratic initiative could turn into humiliation and the electorate’s vote of no confidence in the Abbas regime. Hamas, for its part, realized that it was on the road to victory, with the potential to shake up the entire Palestinian Authority system, giving Hamas a foothold in Judea and Samaria with massive public support. The timing of the election, with Abbas at the end of his career (he’ll turn 86 in November), also makes this the opportunity of the century for Hamas.
Israel has cooperated with the anxious PA leadership by refusing to acquiesce to their demand to open up voting stations in eastern Jerusalem, thus serving up the perfect excuse for Abbas to slam the door on the entire election process (mind you, as we noted, only 150 thousand PA residents will be deprived of the opportunity to vote by Israel’s refusal – the Abbas decision deprives upwards of four or five million voters). At one point, Abbas even declared that by not insisting on the participation of those 150,000 Jerusalem Arabs, the PA would be accepting the Trump peace plan. The chairman is nothing if not creative.
What’s coming next, almost inevitably, is the familiar “escalation dynamics,” that goes: Abbas cancels the election, blames Israel > Hamas reacts to losing the opportunity for victory by undermining the fragile stability with Israel by firing rockets from the Gaza Strip > the Islamic Jihad happily joins the rocket launching > Israel can no longer just contain the situation and will retaliate > the retaliations will be met with increased fire > war.
Of course, Israel could call Abass’ bluff by designating voting stations for eastern Jerusalem residents who possess PA ID cards, and at least temporarily halt the escalation scenario. However, such a move would inevitably result in handing Hamas the legislative power in Judea and Samaria and no one in Israel wants to stare into that abyss.