According to a recent survey, three fourths of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would like to see national elections, which have not occurred in over a decade. Presumably, then, a majority were pleased to hear that the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, announced on January 15 that elections for the legislature and presidency will take place this summer. But Ghaith al-Omari is skeptical that—given the ongoing rift between Hamas and Fatah—elections will take place, and worries that if they do, they will not have salutary effects.
As a result [of the Hamas-Fatah rivalry], no Palestinian national institution can claim electoral legitimacy today. Rather, Hamas and Fatah have steadily consolidated control over their domains in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively. . . . Ending the split has consistently been a high priority for the Palestinian people, who blame both parties for its perpetuation in roughly equal measures. The two sides have signed numerous reconciliation deals in response to public pressure, yet all of them failed.
Even if elections do proceed, Hamas and Fatah’s apparent unwillingness to cede meaningful power in their territories would likely deepen the ongoing Palestinian legitimacy crisis rather than resolve it.
Rather than focusing on elections, the United States should engage the PA and its regional allies on stabilizing the West Bank political scene while ensuring that Gaza’s humanitarian situation does not deteriorate further. Clarifying Palestinian succession is a priority given Abbas’s advanced age and the instability his sudden departure may trigger. Moreover, poor governance and nearly universal perceptions of corruption have dramatically undermined the PA’s domestic legitimacy. Washington should therefore look into leveraging aid—alone and in coordination with international donors—in a manner that fosters PA institutional reform.
Read more on Washington Institute for Near East Policy: https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/experts/ghaith-al-omari