The announcement of elections by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas – after a gap of 15 years – come as no major surprise. According to a decree issued by Abbas’s office on Friday, the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31.
“The president instructed the election committee and all state apparatuses to launch a democratic election process in all cities of the homeland,” the decree said, referring to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
The elections have come about due to a lack of co-ordination between the 12 Palestinian factions and also due to the erosion of Abbas’s own standing. He was responsible for organising secret back door meetings with the Israelis in 1991 and 1992 in the run-up to the Oslo Accords. Such pragmatism and a willingness to accommodate Israel may have worked for him then but is proving next to useless now as a right-wing Netanyahu continues to shore up alliances with Gulf nations in a bid to marginalise Iran and of course Palestine. Failed attempts to build up a flagging economy along with a grand announcement to ban Israeli goods backfired badly and his perceived inability to tackle the Covid pandemic has further reduced his standing.
Abbas has made moves to unite the major Palestinian factions – especially with his secular party Fatah and the more militant Hamas who have been divided by years of infighting. A historic meeting with the 12 factions in September produced smiles for the cameras but there’s a long way to go.
The elections are seen as Abbas’ attempt to shore up unity and goodwill and showcase his democratic legitimacy ahead of Biden’s swearing-in. The Palestinian president had sworn in he would have no dealings with Trump and this move suggests that he may be looking to reverse that policy with Biden.