JERUSALEM, February 3 (JMCC) - As thousands of Egyptian protesters continue to pour into the streets of Cairo, the Palestinian Authority
has announced that it will hold local elections “as soon as possible” in the West Bank
in what appears to be an effort to curb potential Palestinian unrest.
“The timing aspect may have something to do with what’s happening in the Arab world and the fact that a lot of the people are upset with the authoritarian governments,” explained Palestinian political commentator and author Mazin Qumsiyeh.
“They want to show that they are able to hold elections also,” he said.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
announced Tuesday that dates for the local elections would be determined during next week’s cabinet session, and would likely be scheduled for sometime between May and July 2011.
In response, Hamas
leaders stated that they would boycott any future elections because of the gulf that persists between the PA-controlled West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza.
“Talk about holding elections in light of divisions and without agreement is null and void and the results won’t be accepted,” Hamas said in a statement released Wednesday. “Suppression of freedoms by the Palestinian security forces, which collaborate with the occupation in the West Bank, doesn’t create a proper atmosphere for holding fair elections.”
According to Qumsiyeh, while it remains to be seen how things will proceed if Hamas does not participate and elections are banned in Gaza, the fighting between the two Palestinian factions only distracts people from more important concerns, such as Israel's ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“I think we have authoritarian rule here in the West Bank and we have authoritarian rule in Gaza, so it’s clear that this [election] is not going to matter much. I think we have much bigger issue than these local elections. I think all of these things are distractions from the real issues at stake,” Qumsiyeh said.
Last June, the Palestinian Authority cabinet vaguely explained that it was postponing local elections indefinitely “for the sake of the public interest” and in order to bridge the rift between Hamas and the government in the West Bank.
In December 2010, the Palestinian High Court found that the ministers had no jurisdiction to cancel these elections, since Palestinian laws dictate that elections can only be postponed for a period of four weeks, and in that case, only if the Central Elections Commission notes a technical error.
“What's happening in reality on the ground is that the election was canceled without any legal reason or justification,” explained Wail Qut, a lawyer and member of the legal unit at the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, one of three human rights organizations that helped draft the appeal to the High Court.
“The content of the decision was very clear that it was a cancellation of the election, not postponed. The local election law stated that the election could be postponed only for four weeks in some districts if there is an urgent circumstance that prohibits us to implement the election there. This condition wasn't [met],” Qut said.
Four electoral lists – Ramallah for All, Martyr’s of Asira in Nablus
, and the Tulkarem
-based Independents’ list and Al-atan for All – petitioned the High Court and challenged the legality of the government decision. The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, Al-Haq and Addameer provided them with legal representation.
“The Palestinian Supreme Court ruling effectively cancels the Council of Ministers’ decision to postpone elections and requires them to promptly set a date for the local elections. This ruling represents an important contribution to affirm democratic rights in Palestine,” wrote the human rights group Al-Haq in a December 2010 press release announcing the High Court’s decision.
The Palestinian Authority has not held elections since 2006. The current parliament’s term expired in 2010, while President Mahmoud Abbas
’ term was extended indefinitely after it expired in 2009.
According to Qumsiyeh, the Palestinian leadership canceled local elections in June because it was unprepared and thought it would lose power to other political parties. He explained that this, coupled with recent decisions to break up non-violent demonstrations in solidarity with the Egyptian people, proves just how out of touch the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is with Palestinian needs on the ground.
“There are Palestinian laws about freedom of assembly and demonstrations and so forth and they are not obeying it. I think the indications are very negative for our own democracy. Eventually people here are going to rise up,” he said.
“If the leaders don’t listen to this and get ahead of the game, they are going to be basically swept up under the carpet. My advice to all leaders, Palestinians, Egyptians, Israelis… they better start looking for what the people want. The people want democracy. They want freedom. This is the big picture.”