In advance of the Palestinian legislative elections in May 2021, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree ordering the respect of freedom of expression in the Palestinian Territories.

He also issued a decree allocating an additional seat for Palestinian Christians on the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The PLC, before it was dismissed by Abbas in 2018, had previously allocated six of its 132 seats for Christians.

The May elections will be the first in the Palestinian Territories in 15 years, and opposition parties worried about Abbas and his Fateh party cracking down on their freedom of expression. For this reason, during the negotiations in Egypt to set up the May elections, the groups demanded that Abbas issue a decree to order that political expression be allowed without punishment.

The decree orders that no one may be arrested for “reasons related to freedom of expression and political affiliation” and that anyone held in Palestinian Authority prisons under such charges at this time must be freed.

This will apply to both the Fateh-controlled West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The two parties are rivals, and have each accused the other of targeting and imprisoning opposition party members.

Both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, however, remain under Israeli military occupation, with the Palestinian Authority control over the Territories superseded by Israeli martial law. Since Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, the Hamas party has run the internal governing structures of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. They were prevented by Abbas and his party from taking control in the West Bank, and Abbas has held the presidency without an election for nearly 15 years.

Israeli authorities issued a devastating closure of the Gaza Strip in 2007, leading to wide-scale unemployment, economic destitution, and the inability to rebuild after the 2008, 2012, and 2014 military offensives against the isolated enclave, which turned parts of Gaza into rubble.

Next month, representatives of the various Palestinian political parties will meet again for talks in Egypt to hash out issues related to the upcoming election. These include issues of internal security and the expansion of the role of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was minimized after the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the 1990’s.