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Postponed Palestinian legislative election

06 May 2021 Kevjn Lim

On 29 April, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas announced the postponement of the pan-Palestinian legislative election, scheduled for 22 May, until Israel explicitly allows East Jerusalem residents to vote. Gaza-based Hamas, the main rival to Abbas's Fatah party, called the decision a "coup" and "a breach of national consensus", referring to recent moves by both factions towards reconciliation. East Jerusalem's eligible Arab electorate numbers 150,000, but any Israeli constraints would only directly affect 6,300 voters, a symbolic figure out of a total of 2.8 million voters throughout the Palestinian territories.

Significance

Abbas's decision was expected. However, the unspoken reasons for the postponement relate to the growing popularity, and electoral prospects, of two other Fatah breakaway factions, one led by Marwan Barghouti and Nasser al-Qidwa, the other by UAE-based Mohammad Dahlan, as well as the probability of electoral gains by Hamas. The latter has not publicly foresworn armed resistance against Israel and any win would complicate Palestinian relations with the US, European, and moderate Sunni governments, many of which continue to consider Hamas an extremist group.

Palestinians were broadly skeptical about these elections occurring, for the first time since 2006. Nonetheless, anticipation has been building up over past months and there is as such heightened risk within the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem of increasing protests, some quite likely fomented by Abbas's intra-party rivals, against the growing unpopularity, authoritarianism, and perceived corruption of the Palestinian Authority under Abbas's leadership, and at least until elections are reinstated.

Protest-related violence is moderately likely, with the main targets including PA-linked structures and public property. Concurrently, terrorist attacks are also likely against Israeli security forces and settlers. Within the West Bank, Hamas's operational presence has greatly waned since 2007, but there remains some risk of operatives initiating attacks against Fatah assets and security forces. Still, these specific risks remain low to moderate given Hamas's strengthening intra-Palestinian credentials in relation to Fatah/the Palestinian Authority, including after Gaza's recent rocket attacks on Israel in support of the Jerusalem protests, and Hamas's apparent capacity to incite unrest or terrorism within the West Bank. Additionally, Abbas's move renders Palestinian reconciliation in the short term even more unlikely.

Posted 06 May 2021 by Kevjn Lim, Senior Risk Advisor, Middle East and North Africa, Country Risk, IHS Markit

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