Q&A: Palestine Elections

Q&A: Palestinian elections

Simon Jeffery examines the outlook for the forthcoming vote and the possibility of a postponement

Tuesday January 3, 2006

Who are Palestinians voting for?
The vote is for members of the Palestinian parliament. The main parties are Fatah – the ruling party of Yasser Arafat and President Mahmoud Abbas – and the Islamists Hamas. Mr Abbas – elected last year – will remain president but the make up of the parliament could alter the political terrain of the Palestinian territories.

When will it take place?
The ballot is scheduled for January 25 but Mr Abbas has suggested it could be postponed if Israel blocks Palestinians in east Jerusalem from taking part in the poll. Both the Palestinians and Israel claim east Jerusalem as their capital (in the Israeli case, as one half of an “undivided” capital).

A delay would also give Fatah more time to fight off the surge in support for their Hamas rivals.

What are the main differences between Fatah and Hamas?
Where Fatah – the leading faction in the Palestinian Authority – meets with its Israeli counterparts and, as the Palestinian leadership, negotiates with Israel, Hamas has claimed dozens of suicide bombings against Israeli citizens and calls for Israel’s destruction. Hamas is also growing in popularity as Fatah is weakened by infighting and the chaos in Gaza since the summer 2005 Israeli withdrawal. Polls give Fatah around 43% of the seats in the next parliament.

Where does Israel stand on the election?
Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security force, told a closed-door meeting of the Israeli parliament’s defence and foreign affairs committee that a strong Hamas showing would create trouble for Israel, particularly if the group joins the Palestinian Authority.

Is Israel likely to block Palestinian participation in east Jerusalem?
It claims Palestinian political activity is illegal under interim peace accords, but allowed an absentee ballot to operate in parliamentary elections in 1996 and last year’s presidential vote. East Jerusalem was seized by Israel from Jordan after the 1967 six day war. The Oslo peace process in the 90s treated it, the West Bank and Gaza Strip as three separate entities and left a decision on the permanent status of east Jerusalem until the final stage of the talks.

Israeli officials say no decision has been made about whether to allow Jerusalem’s 200,000 Palestinians to take part in the election. A ban on voting in east Jerusalem would make a convenient target upon which Mr Abbas could pin the blame for delaying the vote, but Israeli officials say they are looking for a compromise rather than taking the rap.

What is Hamas’s position on east Jerusalem?
It does not support a delay to the poll, regardless of whether east Jerusalem is included or not. The highest placed candidate on Hamas’s list, Ismail Haniyeh, told reporters in Gaza that he urged Fatah to go ahead with the election. “We have told them that postponing the election will lead to a vacuum and to a dark future,” he said. “Postponing the election is not the solution. We urged them to go ahead with the election.” The second-placed candidate, Mohammed Abu Teir, has suggested east Jerusalem Palestinians could travel to the West Bank to vote.

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