‘It’s already been rigged’: Palestinians doubt legitimacy of PA elections

“If you have a society that’s completely stifled politically, that is punished routinely for political opposition — that’s already rigged,” said a senior analyst at a Palestinian think tank.

By World Israel News and AP

Mahmoud Abbas’ recently called for the Palestinians’ first elections in 15 years, throwing his political future into peril and forcing him to try to appease arch-rivals in the Hamas terror group while keeping his fractious Fatah movement from breaking apart.

Yara Hawari, senior analyst at Al-Shabaka, an international Palestinian think tank, warns that if the elections actually go ahead there will be an “engineered outcome” that allows Fatah and Hamas to maintain the status quo.

“It’s already been rigged,” Hawari said. “If you have a society that’s completely stifled politically, that is punished routinely for political opposition — that’s already rigged.”

The unresolved issues between Fatah and Hamas could also be used as pretexts for cancelling or postponing the elections.

Both Palestinian groups have suppressed dissent through torture and arbitrary arrests in the areas under their control, fomenting terror against Israeli civilians by providing substantial financial incentives to murderers and the families of those eliminated perpetrating attacks.

The presidential decree issued last month calling for elections stemmed from negotiations launched with Hamas last year aimed at shoring up ranks in the face of unprecedented crises.

The Trump administration had cut off all aid and proposed a Mideast plan that helped spark U.S.-brokered normalization agreements between Israel and four Arab countries, representing a major shift in the attitude toward the Palestinians among former allies.

So Abbas embarked on talks with Hamas, the brutal Islamic terror group that seized Gaza from his forces in 2007. Those discussions culminated in the presidential decree calling for legislative elections on May 22 and presidential elections on July 31.

It’s far from clear the elections will actually be held. Doing so will require an agreement between Abbas’s Fatah movement and Hamas, which have been bitterly divided for more than a decade despite multiple attempts at reconciliation. The two sides plan to meet in Cairo this week.

The outcome of the talks will largely depend on the 85-year-old Abbas. He has spent decades failing to achieve a viable Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria and Gaza.

Instead, he rules an increasingly autocratic and unpopular Palestinian Authority, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year paying Palestinian terror stipends to security prisoners and their families.

Reconciling with Hamas and holding elections could shore up his legitimacy and meet longstanding Western demands for accountability. But even a limited victory by Hamas terrorists, could result in international isolation and the loss of vital aid — as it did after Hamas won the last parliamentary elections in 2006.

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In a briefing with Palestinian journalists, EU representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff welcomed the call for elections but declined repeated requests to explain how the EU would respond to a Hamas victory.

“Do you put the cart before the horse?” he said. “Why don’t we start with the horse.”

President Joe Biden has restored aid the to the Palestinians, but the Mideast conflict is likely to take a distant backseat to more pressing crises like the coronavirus pandemic, and the U.S. is unlikely to engage with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

Even a government of independents supported by Hamas could pose problems for Western donors.

Elections could also precipitate the breakup of Abbas’ Fatah party. He has not groomed a successor, and could face a leadership challenge from Marwan Barghouti, a popular Fatah leader who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for his role in the 2000 intifada, or uprising.

“For Barghouti, running for president is his only way out of prison, or at least this is what he thinks,” said Ali Jarbawi, a political science professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Abbas might also have to contend with Mohammed Dahlan, a Fatah rival who was convicted in absentia of corruption charges by a Palestinian court after being driven out by Abbas. Dahlan has a base of support in his native Gaza and powerful allies in the United Arab Emirates, where he lives in exile.

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“So far all the talk is about having one (Fatah) list, but it’s not unlikely that there would be two lists or even three,” said Jehad Harb, a Palestinian political analyst. “Or Barghouti may wait for the presidential election.”

Hamas would face its own challenges in elections, where voters might hold it accountable for the economic devastation it has caused in Gaza by antagonizing Israel an Egypt and perpetually wasting precious resources on terror infrastructure such as its cross-border attack tunnels, each of which costs millions of dollars.

Abbas, whose presidential term expired in 2009, already faces a legitimacy crisis, and Western donors may rethink their support if elections are scrapped. Abbas could also face a backlash from the Palestinian public.

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