Ha­mas re­jects de­lay of elec­tions

Post­pone­ment of vote re­flects Pales­tinian ten­sion

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND WORLD - By Joshua Mit­nick Los Angeles Times spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed.

TEL AVIV, Is­rael — The Pales­tinian Supreme Court in­def­i­nitely post­poned mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions sched­uled for Oct. 8, a sur­prise move that re­flects in­fight­ing in Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas’ Fatah party, ten­sion be­tween Fatah and Is­lamic mil­i­tants from Ha­mas and ris­ing in­sta­bil­ity in Pales­tinian cities.

The state-run WAFA news agency on Thurs­day re­ported that the high court de­layed the vote in­def­i­nitely be­cause of un­spec­i­fied com­plaints about vot­ing prepa­ra­tions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Pales­tinian po­lit­i­cal ex­perts said the de­ci­sion was prob­a­bly prompted by pres­sure from Ab­bas, who has faced calls within his own party to can­cel the vote amid con­cern it could open the door for po­lit­i­cal gains in the West Bank by Ha­mas.

Ha­mas made a sur­prise de­ci­sion to par­tic­i­pate af­ter the Pales­tinian gov­ern­ment in the West Bank called for elec­tions in June. The elec­tions were shap­ing up to be the first coun­try­wide show­down at the bal­lot box be­tween Ha­mas and Fatah since 2006.

Ha­mas spokesman Sami abu Zuhri called the move a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion. “We re­ject the de­ci­sion to can­cel the elec­tion,’’ he said in a state­ment.

Ha­mas’ vi­o­lent seizure of the Gaza Strip in 2007 left Ha­mas and Fatah, the two lead­ing fac­tions in the Pales­tine Au­thor­ity, in a state of es­trange­ment and in con­trol over sep­a­rate ter­ri­to­ries. Gaza City’s Cen­tral Elec­tions Com­mis­sion of­fices ap­par­ently will be quiet on Oct. 8 af­ter a Thurs­day court rul­ing. The re­sult has been the at­ro­phy in Pales­tinian pol­i­tics. The en­dur­ing rift has de­fied sev­eral rounds of Arab-me­di­ated rec­on­cil­i­a­tion talks and un­der­mined the au­thor­ity’s abil­ity to push for an in­de­pen­dent state.

“Even a vote for a city coun­cil be­comes a ref­er­en­dum on the state of the Ha­mas-Fatah ri­valry,’’ said Grant Rum­ley of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies, a Washington think tank. The court rul­ing “was a con­ve­nient mech­a­nism for Ab­bas. The prospect of Ha­mas gain­ing con­trol of any cities in the West Bank was too much for him. And the end of the day, both par­ties view this as ze­ro­sum com­pe­ti­tion.”

Ab­bas, who was elected pres­i­dent in 2005 to a fouryear term, has never put him­self up for re-elec­tion. At 81, his pop­u­lar­ity is on the wane be­cause of his fail­ure to make progress in peace talks with Is­rael.

Ten­sion has sim­mered for years be­tween Ab­bas and Mo­hammed Dahlan, a for­mer Pales­tinian se­cu­rity chief cur­rently in ex­ile in the Per­sian Gulf. Ab­bas has ac­cused Dahlan of try­ing to over­throw him.

In north­ern West Bank cities over the last year, mil­i­tants linked to Ab­bas’ Fatah party have launched in­creas­ingly brazen at­tacks on the Pales­tinian se­cu­rity forces, trig­ger­ing waves of crack­downs by the se­cu­rity forces.

When a Fatah mil­i­tant leader was killed in Palestin- ian Au­thor­ity po­lice cus­tody, tens of thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans turned out for a funeral that be­came an antigov­ern­ment protest.

“I called on the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity to post­pone the elec­tions,’’ said Ja­mal Ti­wari, a Fatah leg­is­la­tor from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus who is a critic of Ab­bas, this week. “The se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the West Bank is not right for an elec­tion.”

Con­cern about Fatah’s ris­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity and po­ten­tial gains by Ha­mas re­cently prompted four U.S.al­lied Arab coun­tries — Egypt, Jor­dan, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates — to press Ab­bas to rec­on­cile with Dahlan. The Pales­tinian pres­i­dent re­jected the call.

“From the very be­gin­ning, Fatah was not ready for elec­tions. Fatah feared that the elec­tions would re­veal its in­ter­nal prob­lems,” said Nashat Aq­tash, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­fes­sor at Birzeit Univer­sity in the West Bank city of Ramallah who served as a con­sul­tant to Is­lamist can­di­dates in 2006. “I am not sur­prised.”

The Pales­tinian Cen­tral Elec­tions Com­mis­sion said it had stopped prepa­ra­tions for the mu­nic­i­pal vote and be­moaned the high court’s de­ci­sion.

It said a vote would help heal the in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal rift.

MO­HAMMED ABED/GETTY-AFP

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