The Palestinian Authority Careens toward Its Next Political Crisis

April 12, 2021 | Jonathan Schanzer
About the author: Jonathan Schanzer is the Senior Vice President for Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and the author of Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine, which was published in 2008.

For the first time since 2006, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and possibly Jerusalem are planning to vote in parliamentary elections, to be held on May 22. These are to be followed in June by a presidential election, in which the incumbent—Mahmoud Abbas, who was voted into office for a four-year term in 2005—plans to run. Both Abbas’s Fatah faction and its rival, Hamas, have agreed to participate in the race. Jonathan Schanzer comments:

Polls suggest that Hamas could emerge as the strongest party once again. More gridlock, dysfunction, and strife could follow. . . .With no restrictions on Hamas’s participation and as Abbas’s polling numbers flatline, the Palestinian Authority [PA] looks likely to be heading for a repeat of 2006, [where a Hamas victory led to a brief civil war and the severing of Gaza from the West Bank]. That said, a recent change in the Palestinian election law stipulating proportional representation in parliament will make outright control more difficult for one party. But a Palestinian Authority significantly influenced by Hamas is not just possible; it’s probable.

But the blame belongs to Abbas. In his sixteen years of absolute power, he has barred political challengers and shut down political debate. If Palestinian elections are held, they will occur in a political vacuum. The alternative was a patient process of institution-building along the lines of what Salam Fayyad, [who served as the PA prime minister from 2007-2013 and plans to run in the upcoming election], advocated. As he knew well, democracy is a system of governance that cannot be built on voting alone. Rather, it must be built on parties, structures, and the rigorous debate of ideas.

That’s not possible this time around. But Abbas could still postpone the elections or work with other parties to restrict terrorist participation. Should he reject both of these paths, a new Palestinian political crisis is slated to begin on May 22.

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