Palestinian Elections Risk a Hamas Victory

March 26, 2021 | Ghaith al-Omari
About the author: Ghaith al-Omari is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 1999 to 2006 he served as an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team and participated in numerous rounds of negotiation at settings including the 2000 Camp David summit.

As Israel enters the post-election phase of its political cycle, where various parties jockey and bargain to create a governing coalition, the Palestinian Authority is preparing for its first parliamentary elections since 2006, to be followed by a presidential election. Then as now, these elections will pit the Fatah party against Hamas. Ghaith al-Omari explains the current situation:

The contours of the electoral map are taking shape, . . . with Hamas seeming cohesive while Fatah is showing fissures. . . . Fatah’s current disunity is conjuring bad memories of its defeat in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections. After that setback, the Palestinian Authority president and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas sought to consolidate his grip by cracking down on and excluding any dissenting views within the movement’s ranks. Although he succeeded in establishing full control over the party’s formal structures, significant constituencies have been alienated by his coercive approach.

Despite the similarities between the current dynamics and 2006, there are important differences that make the outcome unpredictable. If voting actually happens this year, it will be governed by a different elections law that makes it difficult for one party to gain an absolute majority. And although Hamas remains disciplined internally, more than a few Palestinians blame it for perpetuating the split with Fatah, ruling Gaza in a corrupt manner, and failing to improve the territory’s dismal socioeconomic performance. With this track record, the group may have trouble presenting itself as the party of good, clean governance, as it did in 2006. Another wrinkle is the possible emergence of a joint Fatah-Hamas list—an idea that is still alive despite internal opposition from both groups.

As things stand, Hamas seems better positioned to [carry] the election, and if members of this U.S.-designated terrorist group win entry to a resurrected PLC, the results will have substantial implications for U.S. policy toward the PA and the Middle East peace process. To avoid any Palestinian miscalculations, the Biden administration should keep a close eye on these developments and make the bilateral consequences [of a Hamas victory] clear.

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