The US, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel too have warned the octogenarian Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas against holding the Oct. 8 municipal elections he has called for the Palestinian-ruled West Bank towns and locales and the Gaza Strip.
Abbas had hoped to catch the Islamist Hamas off guard at a time when it was in hot water in the Arab arena (although Abbas is in plenty of trouble himself) and the Gaza Strip under its rule was in desperate financial straits and domestic pressure.
Instead, Hamas turned the tables on him and announced that this time, unlike in 2012, when the fundamentalist Palestinian group opted out of the vote, it was more than ready to put up candidates to challenge local Fatah politicians for local office.
More than a million people have already registered to vote.
Abbas was warned that by going through with the election, he will be exposing his Fatah party to the same defeat as it experienced in the last parliamentary elections the Palestinians held 10 years ago, when Hamas swept to a majority in the legislature.
Hamas does not need to scoop up all 400 Palestinian local authorities on the West Bank and Gaza Strip this time. The campaign alone will give the Islamist party the chance to restore its wrecked political infrastructure in Judea and Samaria. Dismantling its networks took three years of hard work by US, Israeli and Palestinian intelligence and security agencies. This the election would turn to scrap. The day after the vote, no one doubts that Hamas will ride in on its campaign apparatus and voter support to re-establish its terror networks.
Israel and Americans officials involved in the Palestinian question see Hamas election gains as leading directly to an upsurge of the Palestinian West-Bank-based terror launched last September and now abating.
Those officials, when trying to intercede with Palestinian figures, to warn them they were opening up a Pandora’s Box, find Ramallah in a state of frenetic chaos.
The confusion is such that it is impossible to sort out who supports whom in the tangled loyalties among the factions, activists and various families and clans. Some Fatah activists appear to be planning to break away from their leader Abbas and run on independent lists. Among them are prominent figures like the Mayor of Nablus Ghassan Shak’a. To oppose him, Abbas’ followers have tagged Mohammad Ayish, a local businessman who headed the town’s Hamas list four years ago.
In Al-Bireh, Ramallah’s neighbor, Fatah adherents have set up five separate lists.
So, before even getting of the ground, Fatah’s election campaign is already rife with deep divisions.
Hamas is in not much better shape.
This group had held out for Muhammad Dahlan, former strongman of Gaza, hated enemy of Mahmoud Abbas and a tycoon who moves around between Abu Dhabi, Cairo and his villa in Montenegro, to sponsor its candidates with cash in order to spoil Abbas’ chances. But Dahlan has showed little interest in the Palestinian municipal elections and even less in funding Hamas politicians.
This may be partly because Abbas is so unpredictable. Even the Palestinians are not sure that he won’t take it into his head to call the elections off – even at the last moment.
To convince the Palestinians that he means business and that campaigning should be serious, Abbas has embarked on what he calls his “Jerusalem gambit.”
Knowing that Israeli will not let the Palestinian Authority place West Bank voting booths in East Jerusalem, which is home to 130,000 Palestinians, his plan is to declare elections for a Palestinian municipality for the eastern part of Israel’s capital in competition to the Israeli municipality. He has chosen the village of Abu Dis as its seat and already installed there a “Palestinian governor of Jerusalem,” who is recognized by no one and known to very few.
For Abbas, this maneuver presents another hazard. If he fails to get the vote out for the “Palestinian Jerusalem municipality”, he loses face. On the other hand, if Israel scotches this attempt to re-divide its capital, the Palestinian leader will have a convenient pretext for calling off the West Bank municipal vote and pinning the blame on Israel.