What next after Hamas’s call to hold municipal elections in the governorates of Gaza ?

Majed Zebda

Middle East Monitor  /  August 17, 2023

The extended consultative meeting held by the Hamas Movement on Monday, in Gaza, attended by representatives of the active Palestinian forces in the Palestinian street, and with the participation of political, societal, intellectual and media officials and elites, in which they raised their voice to demand holding local elections in the Gaza Strip under the supervision of the Central Elections Commission is an important step in promoting the voice of the Palestinian public. The public has continuously demanded, over the past years, that the Palestinian general elections be held as a gateway to restoring Palestinian unity and ending division.

The Presidency of the Legislative Council, the Palestinian factions, national figures and community institutions in Gaza welcomed Hamas’ call to hold local elections. This was announced in a press release published by the Palestinian media confirming that Hamas’ call comes in line with the desire of the Palestinian public, and the conviction of the Palestinian elites of the importance of holding local elections as the first step towards resuming the peaceful transfer of power. They also believe it is a means to agree on the ballot box as a constitutional and legal means that would produce a young leadership that represents the majority of the Palestinian people and is capable of developing a comprehensive national vision that ends the state of political fragmentation the Palestinians are living in. This has contributed to the decline of the Palestinian cause on the list of regional and international priorities.

The haste of the Governmental Action Committee in Gaza to confirm its willingness and complete readiness to facilitate the holding of local elections in the Gaza governorates, as well as the announcement by the Executive Director of the Central Elections Commission, Hisham Kaheel, of the readiness of the Commission to hold elections at any time, indicates a real desire to overcome any obstacles that may hinder the elections process. It also expresses a state of national consensus, and a real desire to actively participate in the return of democratic life through the gate of local elections to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas’ call for local elections is not far from its previous calls for holding elections, and its keenness to find a political partnership in all Palestinian sovereign and service institutions. The Hamas Movement, which still has the majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, and has been governing the Gaza Strip since 2007, has always called for the necessity of holding general elections. It took initiative to voluntarily concede Ismail Haniyeh’s government within the Shati agreement that provided for holding general Palestinian elections in April 2014. Hamas also took the initiative to make the decision to dissolve the governmental administrative committee in Gaza and announced its agreement to hold general elections as part of its response to the Egyptian efforts and its efforts to make the Cairo Agreement a success in September 2017.

Today, after these explicit calls, and everyone’s willingness to participate in the electoral process, we find that the ball is in the court of the PA presidency, as it now falls on its shoulders to seize the opportunity and respond to Hamas’s call and not delay issuing the decision to hold local elections, especially as they come after Ismail Haniyeh’s meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Ankara under the auspices of Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It also comes after Hamas hastened to respond to Abbas’s invitation to participate in the Al-Alamein meeting in Egypt, despite it knowing that the invitation to the meeting of the general secretaries was aimed to improve Abbas’s image after the Jenin events and after the camp’s residents dismissed the Fatah delegation, preventing them from participating in the funerals for the camp martyrs.

Despite Hamas’s clear call for elections, and this being greatly welcomed by the Palestinian forces and elites, there are major doubts about the extent to which the PA President will respond to Hamas’s call, in light of the fragmentation of the Fatah Movement, its declining popularity on the Palestinian street, and its loss of a number of municipal councils, trade unions and student councils in the largest universities in the West Bank within the recent local, trade union and student elections in the West Bank governorates. This is in addition to the growing public anger towards the Palestinian security forces and the clashes that took place between the residents and security forces in the Nablus and Jenin governorates, perhaps the most recent of which was the attack by the residents of Al-Ain camp in Nablus on members of the security forces while they arrested a resident of the camp at dawn last Sunday.

On the other hand, the PA is aware that holding local elections in Gaza will inevitably alleviate the state of political tension suffered by the Palestinian public in Gaza, as many accusations are directed at it of participating in intensifying the siege on the people of Gaza and contributing to exacerbating the humanitarian and social problems suffered in Gaza. This was proven by some public statements made by its officials, most notably the famous statement by the Prime Minister of Ramallah and the leader of the Fatah movement, Mohammad Shtayyeh, who called on Egypt to stop de-escalating the PA’s measures aimed at igniting the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Therefore, I find it unlikely that the PA would take any steps to alleviate the tense situation in the Palestinians public, especially the decision to hold local elections.

In conclusion, I call on the leaders of Hamas and the active Palestinian factions to insist on their position calling for the holding of local elections. If the PA leadership refrains from cooperating and facilitating these elections, the Palestinian forces, national figures and elites can agree to hold internal local elections that result in strengthening political partnership, collective participation in shouldering responsibility and selecting figures capable of running municipalities and local institutions and can provide quality municipal services that contribute to alleviating the suffering of the Palestinian citizens in Gaza.

Majed Zebda is a Palestinian journalist