On Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that new elections would be held later this year. They would be the first Palestinian elections since 2006, when Hamas, a group regarded as a terrorist organization by Israel and many Western countries, won the vote in Gaza and established control over the exclave.
Abbas said in a statement that it was “necessary to expedite the holding of a comprehensive national dialogue in which all Palestinian factions participate without exception,” according to the Times of Israel.
Mukhaymar Abu Saada, a political science professor at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University, told the Times, “The decree shows that we have entered a new level of seriousness when it comes to the willingness to hold elections.”
There remains a great deal to be sorted about the election processes - a subject that has torpedoed more than one attempt to hold elections in the past - but, according to Abbas’ plan, the first round of voting would take place on May 22, in which Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza would vote for members of a Palestinian Legislative Council. A second round would take place on July 7, for Palestinian Authority president, and a third round for the Palestinian National Council on August 31.
Some items to be sorted include how security would be provided at polling places, an agreement not to make political arrests, and the establishment of an independent electoral council amenable to all parties.
A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted a few weeks ago found that if elections were held tomorrow, 38% of voters would vote for Fatah while 34% would vote for Hamas. Abbas would likely lose to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who would win 50% of the vote to the incumbent’s 43%, according to the survey.
It is unlikely, however, that Hamas would be able to establish primary control in the West Bank, which is separated from Gaza by Israeli territory. In May 2020, Abbas threw out existing security agreements with Israel made under the Oslo peace process in response to an Israeli initiative to annex additional parts of the West Bank, but resumed cooperation in November 2020. According to the New York Times, it was driven by “relief” following the election of US President-elect Joe Biden, as US President Donald Trump has supported Israel’s expansion plans in the past.
Hamas’ 2006 victory came after years of militant struggle that succeeded in forcing all 8,000 Israeli settlers to evacuate the Gaza Strip. The subsequent unity government established with Fatah in the Gaza Strip collapsed soon after the election, and Fatah was left in control of the West Bank and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Abbas dominates all three.
Since the 2006 election, Tel Aviv regularly bombs and shells the Gaza Strip, while various militant groups launch rockets and incendiary balloons at Israeli territory, most of which are shot down by the latter's air defense missiles. In 2007, Israel began a total blockade of Gaza, including trade and travel, electricity, and the delivery of other supplies, which has had a catastrophic effect on the quality of life in the territory and led to accusations of apartheid practices and its nickname as “the world’s largest open-air prison.