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Upcoming Palestinian Elections: A Road Towards Reconciliation or Further Friction?

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After 15 years, the Palestinian Authority (PA) have announced that free and fair elections will take place under President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas, branded a “terrorist organisation” by the EU and US, took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 after the 2006 elections. Tensions have remained rife between Hamas and Fatah, a socialist democratic party in opposition of PA. Critics are undecided whether these upcoming elections on May the 22nd and July 31st will not only be free and fair but will result in potential reconciliation in the ongoing Palestine-Israeli conflict that the US are demanding. The young Palestinian electorate have been given a unique opportunity to voice their hopes that the authoritarian nature of their government will change, and peace will prevail. Yet the key concern for pro-democratic voters is why have the government suddenly called these elections after 15 years, and who will they benefit? 

Post-Trump Palestine, amid the PA’s decline, is a significant factor in the timing of these elections and it is not coincidental that Bidens victory in 2020 escalated a ploy from the PA to appeal to the US and the West after Trump’s blatant pro-Israel foreign policy. Fatah’s aim to appear democratic is superficial; Abbas’s approval rating has plummeted, with authoritarian policies dominating the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including judicial reforms which limit judicial independence. Fatah needs the support of the US, but sceptics argue that these elections will only end in two ways; either they are corrupt and legitimise Fatah’s unruly system or are nothing but a ploy to cover for elite officials’ behaviour to their citizens. Some claim that there is no consideration of representation or democracy whatsoever. 

However, these views are challenged – the young electorate will scrutinise the result of this election amongst social media and fight for democracy. All eyes of the US, Israel and the Middle East will be on Palestine on May the 22nd. Foreign interference is also a problem – Israel is preventing Palestinians in Jerusalem from participating in these elections, undermining the fairness and legitimacy. Moreover, it is it likely that Israel wants Abbas to remain in power, which would contribute to further tensions and segregations between the two forces. Israel’s hatred of Hamas will be threatened by these elections through the possibility of them gaining power as seen in 2006. Also, UAE are unusually involved as self-interested actors, trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestine conflict to gain political status with the US. Egypt and Jordan have made extensive efforts to ensure that Fatah is relatively unified so Hamas will not be favoured by Fatah’s lack of competence. 

The coincidence of Israel simultaneously holding elections on March 23rd undermines Palestine’s campaign for alleged democracy – whilst Israel is preventing the 700,000 Palestinians living on Israel’s territory for voting in their own elections, they are also preventing them from voting in Israeli elections and denying them democratic civil rights. After 15 years of anti-democratic laws in Palestine, reconciliation between regions is looking increasingly unlikely. 

The new proportional electoral system fails to account for smaller parties; Hamas and Fatah will be the victors once again. Recent policies of judicial and civil society reforms by Abbas 

are repressing “millions” of Palestinians. It is time for the world to call out potential unfairness on the 22nd May and implement an equal system enhancing rights and freedom of civilians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is compelling that the timing of the elections is tactical. Democracy is weak and frail, “challenges do exist but can be overcome if we work together”, claims Miguel Berger, a German political official. Yet the bleak reality is that the upcoming elections will furtherly entrench divisions and discord among Israel and Palestine, dissolving any hopes of democracy that the West have in mind.

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