Mahmoud Abbas Has Called for Palestinian Elections. Will They Happen, and What Do They Mean for Israel?

November 14, 2019 | Michael Milstein
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While Israel has already had two elections this year, and may possibly have a third in 2020, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has not held elections in fourteen years. But Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, has recently changed his tune, calling for parliamentary elections to take place in the West Bank and Gaza, to be followed by presidential elections at a later date. Hamas, which till now has opposed such proposals, also supports the idea. Michael Milstein comments:

The [Palestinian] public has become increasingly alienated from the PA for a number of years, criticizing governmental corruption and the paralysis in the political system under Abbas’s centralized administration. . . . It appears that the current public protests in Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq, which focus on economic concerns and governmental corruption, are uncomfortable for Ramallah, given the basic resemblance of the situation in those countries to the state of affairs in the PA. The proposal of elections may be designed as a preemptive measure—a demonstration of apparent readiness to take internal corrective measures before broad-based public protest aimed at overthrowing the existing order develops on the West Bank.

It is possible that the change in Hamas’s attitude toward elections, at least on the declaratory level, is a result of fear that the popular regional uprising will [likewise] spread to the Gaza Strip, where the situation is far more explosive than that in the West Bank.

From Israel’s perspective, so long as elections are held solely on the West Bank and without participation by Hamas, there is no need to prevent them. They will not provide Abbas with substantial genuine legitimacy, [nor] will they involve a concrete risk for Israel, either in the sense of strengthening Hamas in the West Bank and its integration in the governmental establishment or by enabling Hamas to gain control over parts of the West Bank. Israel will have to intervene, however, if agreement begins to emerge between the PA and Hamas on general elections [in which the latter fields candidates].

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