According to Hamas officials, there can be no free and fair elections in the West Bank while Abbas is cracking down on anyone who dares to challenge him. Also, Fatah's decision to hold local elections only in the West Bank is an admission that the Palestinians have two separate entities: the West Bank and Gaza. UN members next month should ask Abbas when he applies to upgrade the status of a Palestinian state to "non-member," which state he is talking about -- the one in the West Bank or the one in the Gaza Strip?

After repeated delays, Palestinians in the West Bank are scheduled to hold local elections on October 20 for 245 village councils and 98 municipalities.

In recent weeks, the Fatah leadership has been working hard to ensure that its candidates win the local elections.

Since the first free and democratic Palestinian local elections were held in 1976 under the Israeli military government, the Palestinians have had only one local election -- in 2005.

The 2005 elections saw Hamas candidates score major victories in most West Bank cities, including Nablus, Kalkilya, Bethlehem and Tulkarem.

This year's elections, however, are being boycotted by Hamas, leaving its rival Fatah faction as the main contender.

Hamas's decision to boycott the upcoming vote was, ironically, one of the main reasons why the Palestinian Authority leadership decided to go ahead with the elections.

When Hamas announced its decision to boycott the local elections, there was a sigh of relief in Ramallah.

The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank wants to avoid a repeat of the 2005 election, which saw Hamas candidates take over many village councils and municipalities.

Fatah is instead being challenged by independent candidates and representatives of some PLO groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the People's (Communist) Party.

The question now is not whether Fatah would win the vote, but how large the victory will be.

To ensure a landslide victory, the Fatah leadership, headed by Abbas, has taken a number of measures aimed at weakening its rivals.

First, Fatah has dismissed about 50 of its members who decided to run as on an independent ticket in the elections.

Among those who were dismissed is Ghassan Shaka'a, a prominent Fatah figure from Nablus who has decided to contest the vote outside his faction's framework. Shaka'a, a former Nablus mayor, has angered Abbas and the Fatah leadership by running as an independent candidate.

Second, Fatah has decided to suspend funds to the other PLO groups that are running against Fatah in the local elections.

Until last month, these groups, especially the PFLP and DFLP, used to receive regular funding from the PLO leadership, although most of them are opposed to the Oslo Accords and peace talks with Israel.

Abbas is hoping that the dismissal of unruly Fatah candidates and the suspension of funds to his political rivals will guarantee his loyalists a smooth victory.

Abbas's efforts to take over the village councils and municipalities began long before the date was set for the local elections.

Over the past few years, Abbas's government and security forces have dismissed and arrested several elected mayors and members of municipal councils who were affiliated with Hamas or other rival groups.

This is, in fact, one of the main reasons why Hamas says it decided to boycott this year's elections. According to Hamas officials, there can be no free and fair elections in the West Bank while Abbas is cracking down on anyone who dares to challenge him.

Fatah's decision to hold local elections only in the West Bank is an admission that the Palestinians have two separate entities: the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas's critics say that by insisting on going ahead with the vote, he has "solidified" the split between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

This is something that the UN General Assembly will have to take into consideration when it is scheduled next month to vote on Abbas's application to upgrade the status of a Palestinian state to "non-member." The UN members should ask Abbas which state he is talking about -- the one in the West Bank or the one in the Gaza Strip?

Related Topics:  Palestinian Authority  |  Khaled Abu Toameh receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free gatestone institute mailing list

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