Abbas declares first Palestinian elections in 15 years

Elections pose a major risk for Abbas’ Fatah party and also for the Hamas terror group, which welcomed the decree.

By Associated Press

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday decreed parliamentary and presidential elections for later this year in what would be the first vote of its kind since 2006, when the Islamic terror group Hamas won a landslide victory.

Elections would pose a major risk for Abbas’ Fatah party and also for Hamas, which welcomed the decree. Both have faced protests in recent years over their bloody feud with one another and failure to meet even the most basic needs of those in the territories they govern.

Fatah and Hamas have been publicly calling for elections for more than a decade but have never agreed on a process for holding them, and despite Friday’s decree, it remained far from clear whether the voting would actually be held.

Elections could also complicate President-elect Joe Biden’s plans to restore aid to the Palestinians and to revive the peace process with Israel.

The 2006 election victory by Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel and the Western world, led to heavy international pressure being placed on the Palestinian Authority. Clashes between Fatah and Hamas raged for more than a year, culminating in Hamas’ 2007 brutal takeover of the Gaza Strip, which it still controls, despite clashes with rival terror groups, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Abbas’ Palestinian Authority is confined to Judea and Samaria, where it administers major population centers according to agreements with Israel.

The decree sets a timeline in which legislative elections would be held on May 22, followed by presidential elections on July 31 — the first since Abbas was elected to a four-year term in 2005. On Aug. 31, elections would be held for the National Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a group “responsible for scores of acts of terrorism from its creation, resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Abbas handed the decree to Hanna Nasir, the head of the Central Election Commission.

Hamas welcomed the decree and expressed its “strong eagerness to make this obligation successful.”

“We have worked in the past months to surmount all hurdles to reach this day, and we have shown a lot of flexibility,” it said in a statement.

A poll carried out in December by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that if parliamentary elections were held, Fatah would win 38% of the vote and Hamas would win 34%. Abbas would lose in a presidential election against Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, 43% to 50%, according to the survey. The pollsters interviewed 1,270 Palestinians face to face across Judea and Samaria and Gaza, and reported a margin of error of 3%.

Hamas has spent years building up its vast arsenal of rockets and other arms, bankrolled by Iran, which it uses against Israeli civilians in periodic attacks.

It would be virtually impossible for Hamas to assume responsibility over the Palestinian enclaves in Judea and Samaria, where Israel maintains overall security control to prevent Palestinian terror groups from gaining a foothold there.

The Palestinian Authority coordinates with Israel on security, economic and other matters.

Abbas, 85, has led the Palestinian Authority and the PLO since the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004 and has no clear