Sunday, 20 Jun 2021 - 10 of Tammuz, 5781

Will postponement of Palestinian elections affect the EU-Palestinian Authority relationship ?

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According to Kobi Michael, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, the Europeans and the Biden administration do not understand all the complexities which are related to the Palestinian arena.”

The decision to postpone the planned Palestinian elections, including the legislative elections originally scheduled for 22 May, is deeply disappointing,’’ stated EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell last Friday.

His statement followed the decision of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to  postpone indefinitely the election for the 138-member Palestinian Legislative Council, the first in 15 years, a decision that, political analysts say, may affect the EU-PA relationship.  The EU is the PA main financial donor.

‘’The EU has consistently expressed its support for credible, inclusive and transparent elections for all Palestinians,’’ added Borrell.

‘’We firmly believe that strong, inclusive, accountable and functioning democratic Palestinian institutions based on respect for the rule of law and human rights are vital for the Palestinian people, for democratic legitimacy and, ultimately, for the two-state solution,’’ he said.

‘’We strongly encourage all Palestinian actors to resume efforts to build on the successful talks between the factions over recent months. A new date for elections should be set without delay,’’ he added.

‘’We reiterate our call on Israel to facilitate the holding of such elections across all of the Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem,’’ Borrell said.

‘’The EU continues to stand ready to work with all those involved to facilitate EU observation of any electoral process.’’

Abbas declared that the decision to postpone the elections, schedule for May 22,’’came after the failure of all international efforts to persuade Israel to allow the inclusion of Jerusalem in the elections.’’ ‘’The elections will not be held without East Jerusalem,’’ he said.

There is widespread belief among the Palestinians and the international community that the issue of voting for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem was only a pretext used by Mahmoud Abbas to avoid elections which would endanger his legitimacy already eroded by internal divisions within Fatah and the probable win of Hamas, the Islamist movement ruling in the Gaza Strip.

‘’The issue of East Jerusalem provided the justification for the PA’s decision to postpone the elections,’’ said Ghait Al-Omarin, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former foreign policy advisor to Mahmoud Abbas.

‘’Abbas has never been clear on the reasons and urgency of these elections,’’ he explained during a briefing for journalists organised by Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA). ‘’The situation is such that Fatah would end at the third or furth position in these elections.’’ Beside legislative elections, a presidential election was also originally scheduled in July.

While Abbas charged that his postponement decision was linked to the fact that elections could not be held in East Jerusalem, Israel’s foreign ministry’s political director Alon Bar met lasy week with 13 ambassadors from European Union countries and urged them not to heed claims of Israeli interference in the election made by officials close to Abbas.

“During the meeting, Alon Bar emphasized to the ambassadors that the elections in the Palestinian Authority are an internal Palestinian issue, and that Israel has no intention of intervening in them nor preventing them,” said a statement issued by the Israeli foreign ministry.

A request by the Palestinians, sent to Israel, had asked that 6,300 East Jerusalem residents be permitted to vote in the election at local post offices. Israel has not responded to the demand but in former elections in 1996, 2001 and 2006, Israel allowed the participation of East Jerusalem residents.

During the meeting with the European diplomats, Alon Bar reminded of the EU mission’s remarks to the U.N. Security Council last week particularly the importance of meeting the ‘’Quartet Principles’’, and the problematic nature of the terrorist organization Hamas’ participation in the Palestinian Authority elections.

The Quartet – made up of the US, UN, EU and Russia – has set criteria in the past for Palestinian election candidates, stating that they must abandon violence, recognize Israel and recognize agreements signed between the PLO and Israel. Hamas still vows the destruction of the State of Israel. The Biden administration reaffirmed its commitment to those conditions last week.

According to Kobi Michael, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, the Europeans and the Biden administration do not understand all the complexities which are related to the Palestinian arena.”

‘’They are still captured in some naïve paradigm rooted in the norms of the Western world about democracy, human rights….,’’ he added. ‘’They still believe that they can engineer the Palestinian political system…’’. ‘’In order to reach democracy, human rights,….first of all you have to reach stability, security and any sort of political agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,’’ said Kobi Michael.

According to Ghait Al-Omari, who follows closely the Washington political scene, the Biden administration was not interested at all in having the Palestinian elections. ‘’ For them it was a bit of a sight of relief to see the postponement,’’ he said.

The approach of the new administration, he explained, is not to have a ‘’big’’ diplomacy’’  but rather short steps to re-engage the Palestinian Authority,  such as  relaunching the financial assistance, re-opening the PLO office in Washington….

So elections threatened to derail the American approach. Moreover, a victory of Hamas would have been problematic for the U.S. as by law they couldn’t   engage with a government led by the Islamist group which is on the terror list both in the EU and the U.S.


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