Law makers from the ruling Fatah movement, who constitute a majority in the current Palestinian Parliament, decided on Wednesday to withdraw dozens of amendments to the proposed election bill. On Thursday the bill was in principle approved, paving the way for holding legislative elections on July 17, as originally set.
Two issued warnings, one from the election committee and the other from the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), forced Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to intervene and demand Fatah lawmakers to end parliamentary maneuver and approve the election bill ‘as it is’
The election committee warned that any further delay in passing the election bill would force the committee to postpone the holding of elections, stressing that a full three months are needed to prepare for legislative elections.
Hamas reminded the Palestinian Authority that holding legislative elections on July 17, was part of an agreement reached in the March Cairo talks, warning that the Islamic movement would rethink its commitment to the entire agreement, including its commitment to the ‘calm’ period, if the PA fails to stand to its commitments.
On the eve of a summit with American President George Bush, Abbas, who also favors a delay, was forced to use his influence and set an end to his Fatah party attempts to force a delay through parliamentary maneuvers.
As Abbas hopes to arrive to Washington with a list of security achievements, Hamas’s warning was enough to convince the Palestinian leader that a delay to legislative elections can only happen through negotiations with the Islamic movement.
Why is Fatah interested in postponing legislative elections?
Fatah leaders have brought many political, legal and logistical reasons to justify the need to postpone elections.
Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Sha’ath pointed to the coincidence in time of holding elections and the implementation of the disengagement plan, saying that Israeli security measures during the pullout are likely to hinder the PA ability to run free and democratic elections.
Yet, and as Israel is leaning towards a three weeks delay to the start of the pullout due to claimed religious reasons, the logistical difficulties are likely to be ruled out, especially that Palestinians has in principle accepted to run elections under occupation.
Together with other PLO secular factions, Fatah lawmakers are unhappy with some articles in the election bill.
The most controversial article is the one that divides the nationally elected lists and the regionally elected ones. According to the election bill, 2/3 of the seats would be elected on regional bases.
Learning the lessons of the latest round of local elections held in the West bank and the Gaza Strip, Fatah lawmakers has realized that the majority of Palestinians are backing Abbas’s political moves, but at the same time believe that Hamas is more trustworthy than the Palestinian Authority.
Therefore, Fatah lawmakers believe that in regionally based elections, Hamas enjoys better chances to win, whereas in national ones, Fatah is likely to take the lead.
Both Fatah leaders and leaders of PLO leftist groups points to the other article of the Cairo agreement, which states that parliamentary seats will be divided equally between nationally elected and regionally elected lists.
On the other side, Hamas, who agree that a 50% quota was approved in the Cairo meetings, says that if amendments to the election bill would mean a delay, then holding elections in time is more important.
Hamas leaders believe that the sooner elections take place the better for the Islamic Movement.
Looking at the preparations to the third round of local elections, which would take place on May 5; it is evident that non-political family based traditional groups play the most decisive rule. Candidates’ lists not supported by local traditional clans stand little chances to win.
Hamas is more power-based among the traditional clan system, therefore are expected to harvest more in regionally based elections.
Yet, a major part of Fatah lawmakers move is more related to struggles inside the ruling Palestinian movement.
The majority of Fatah lawmakers belong to the movement’s young guards, while the majority of PLO and PA decision makers belong to the old guards.
Fatah young guards were pressing for an election delay to allow holding the movement general conference first. Young guards believe that the movement convention, slated on August 15, would end the old guards domination over the movement’ leadership, allowing them to boost their influence.
Fatah young guards believe that the movement convention would be a major land mark in reforming both Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, which is believed to be vital to regain public support.
Furthermore, Fatah feels the time pressure. Soon election would deprive them from vitally needed time to unify the so far chaotic movement. During the second round of local elections Fatah activists competed against each other; a factor that played to the hands of their main Islamic opponent (Hamas).
Many Fatah leaders believe that early elections would take place in unsuitable times, where the current leadership has so far failed to provide Palestinians with any considerable solid achievement. Many of them believe that if elections take place after the intended Israeli pullout, it would help them regain public confidence.
Even while the movement that has dominated Palestinian public life for the past 40 years seems to be open for power sharing, it is very unlikely that Fatah would accept power replacement, especially to the Islamic movement.
The results of the May 5 local elections could either boost or defer the PA desire to run political elections. Neither the PA nor regional and international powers can tolerate a Palestinian political system that is constrained by the politics and the ideology of the Islamic movement.
It is very likely that Abbas together with Arab leaders would seek the consent of Hamas on an election delay after the Palestinian leader arrives back from Washington.
Hamas leaders, who seems to understand the complexity of the Middle East situation, has said that they don’t totally rule out an agreed upon election delay.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â