On January 15, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas announced that legislative and presidential elections will take place in the West Bank and Gaza later this year.
The decision came 15 years after Abbas was elected for what was meant to be a four-year term.
After many similar announcements that did not come to fruition, and in light of the PA’s increasing authoritarianism, the sincerity of this move is doubtful. Not only has upholding democratic principles never been a priority for the PA, but both the PA and Abbas’s current approval ratings are abysmal. This begs the question: Why announce elections now?
In the last four years, the Trump administration not only cut the PA’s funding but also completely sidelined Abbas. Since Joe Biden’s victory in the November 3 presidential election, Palestinian officials have been desperately grappling to get into the new administration’s good books. The decision to finally announce elections is clearly a part of this effort.
But impressing the Biden administration is likely not the only reason behind this move. Several domestic and international actors have also been pressuring the PA to hold elections. The international donor community, for example, has long been acutely aware that consistently propping up an authority and president who are over a decade past their elected mandate is not a good look.
For now, the legislative elections are scheduled to take place on May 22 and the presidential vote on July 31. There is, however, still a possibility that the PA will once again delay the election, putting the blame on either Hamas or Israel.
There is already one big obstacle in the way of the election: Jerusalem.
In the past, Abbas and other Palestinian officials stated that they would not hold elections in the West Bank and Gaza unless Palestinians in Jerusalem are also allowed to go to the polls.
It is unlikely that any Israeli government would permit Palestinian elections in Jerusalem, as doing so would amount to acknowledging a legitimate Palestinian presence in the city, and therefore challenge the Israeli claim of sovereignty over the entire metropolis.
Moreover, the Israeli regime may even try to prevent Palestinian Jerusalemites from taking part in the elections by threatening to revoke their residence permits if they do so.
But even if elections do go ahead as planned, they will likely be neither free nor fair.