Democracy for the Palestinians suffered another setback today when the Palestinian high court ruled that municipal elections scheduled for next month must be postponed because of a dispute between the rival political parties that control the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian court decided to suspend the elections also because of a legal challenge filed on behalf of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, who would not be allowed to vote.
Israel considers East Jerusalem a part of Israel and would not permit ballot boxes there. Palestinians consider East Jerusalem occupied territory and want it to serve as their capital in a future Palestinian state.
The now-suspended Oct. 8 vote was not for Palestinian president or parliament, but for leaders to fill 3,818 seats on 416 municipal councils in cities and villages across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The elections would be the first vote in a decade to pit the militant Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, against its bitter rivals in Fatah, which runs the West Bank and is the party steered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The vote was seen as a potentially important proxy to measure support for both Hamas, which has fought three wars in recent years with Israel, and Abbas, who is an unpopular leader. Opinion surveys have found that two-thirds of Palestinians want Abbas to resign.
The people in Gaza have not voted in 10 years. The West Bank held municipal elections in 2012, but many cities and villages did not participate. Nor did Hamas, which boycotted the contest.
As for Abbas, the Palestinian president is now in the 11th year of a four-year term he was elected to back in 2004. He has not named a successor, and there is no public plan for what would happen if the 81-year-old were to die in office.
The Palestinian Central Election Commission announced that the parties should suspended campaigning following the court ruling to postpone. There was confusion among Palestinian leaders and media over when the Palestinian high court might hear arguments over how the elections can proceed, with some suggesting a hearing could be held later this month and others saying the court would not do so until December.
In addition to the tussle over what to do about Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem, the high court in Ramallah announced the suspension after a court in Gaza ruled that some candidates submitted by Fatah to run for posts in Gaza should be disqualified. Fatah officials said their candidates were being denied rights to compete.
A spokesman for Hamas in Gaza said the decision to suspend the elections “was a political one that aims to rescue the Fatah party from defeat after some of its candidates were disqualified by the Central Election Commission and Palestinian courts.”
On their website, Fatah officials expressed hope that the elections will be held but said they must yield to the court’s orders.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · William Booth