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Abbas, Hamas, The Elections: When What’s to Come Is Still Unsure
by Hugh Fitzgerald
When President-for-Life Mahmoud Abbas, now entering the 16th year of his four-year term, first had the bright idea, this past February, to call for Palestinian elections, both parliamentary and presidential, it seemed like a good idea. Abbas thought it would burnish his image with the new Biden Administration, showing that he was, after all, a believer in democracy. He assumed he’d be able to prevail in both elections. It doesn’t seem to be working out quite as he anticipated.
First, the parliamentary elections in late May will not be a sure Fatah victory. In fact, the big story about those elections is that Fatah itself is now coming apart. One leading figure in Fatah has been Nasser al-Kidwa, Yasser Arafat’s nephew. When he announced that he would be fielding his own list of candidates, separate from those of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas flew into a rage. He declared that the PA would no longer support the Yasser Arafat Foundation, where Nasser al-Kidwa has long enjoyed a sinecure, thereby cutting off his means of support. That has not brought Al-Kidwa back into the Fatah fold, but made him more determined than ever to oppose Abbas and the Fatah loyalists he has chosen to run for Parliament.
Hamas intends to take part in the parliamentary elections, though it will not field a candidate for President. In recent public opinion polls, neither Hamas nor Fatah had a majority. The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that if elections were held today, a single Fatah list would win 43% of the vote and Hamas would win 30%, with 18% of voters undecided.
A faction led by Mohammed Dahlan, a former senior Fatah leader now based in the United Arab Emirates, would win 10%. Nasser al-Kidwa would win 7%. These two candidates would draw votes mainly from Fatah, dropping its share to around 30%, the pollsters said. That would put Hamas and Fatah neck and neck. Hamas soundly defeated Fatah (74 to 45 seats) in the only previous elections – held in 2006 – where they faced each other. And Hamas keeps rising in the polls for Palestinian president, while Abbas’ popularity continues to steadily go down. He is being blamed for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic, having failed to buy a single dose of the vaccine for his people. He is geriatric (85 and in poor health), authoritarian (he does not brook the slightest sign of independence from his subordinates), corrupt (he has amassed a fortune of $400 million) and ineffectual: he was unable to prevent five Muslim states — the U.A.E., Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco, and Kosovo — from one after the other normalizing relations with the Jewish state (Kosovo even put it embassy in Jerusalem), or to weaken the Jewish state in any way. Israel goes from strength to strength: first, economically, as the Start-Up Nation with IPOs and unicorns galore; second, militarily, with startling advances in its weaponry; politically, with the Abraham Accords that have transformed Israel, for so many Muslims, from pariah to partner. Abbas’ star is waning; that of Hamas is on the rise. Another two months of Abbas’ rule may be enough to put Hamas in position, if it manages to strike a deal either with Mohamad Dahlan or with Nasser al-Kidwa, to win a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament.
And it is that possibility – turning into a likelihood — of Hamas’ success which alarms the Arab countries that have asked Mahmoud Abbas to cancel the upcoming elections. The story is here: “Hamas: Arab countries asked Abbas to scrap elections,” by Khaled Abu Tomah, Jerusalem Post, March 27, 2021:
Some Arab countries have asked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cancel the upcoming Palestinian general elections to avoid a Hamas victory, senior Hamas official Musa Abu Marzouk said over the weekend
Abu Marzouk did not mention the names of the Arab countries that reportedly approached Abbas.
Reports in the Arab media, however, said that Egypt and Jordan have expressed concern over the possibility that Abbas’s strife-torn Fatah faction could lose to Hamas in the May 22 election for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), as was the case in the last vote 15 years ago.
According to the Hamas official, the same Arab countries have also asked Abbas to patch up his differences with deposed Fatah operative Mohammed Dahlan, who is currently based in the United Arab Emirates, to prevent a Hamas victory.
“President Abbas rejected the request,” Abu Marzouk told Palestinian reporters.
“Some regional parties do not want the Palestinian elections to take place,” he said. “There’s a 40% chance that the elections may be delayed.”
Abu Marzouk said that he did not rule out the possibility that Abbas would not hold the presidential election, slated for July 31, if he feels that he may lose.
The Hamas official said that his group would not participate in the presidential election.
While Hamas has said it would not field a candidate for the presidency, it could still change its mind, especially if it wins control of the Palestinian Parliament on May 22. Abu Marzouk’s reference to “some regional parities” that do not want the elections to be held is an allusion to Egypt and Jordan.
Hamas, he added, will run in the parliamentary election with its own list, which will be headed by senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya. Some 55% of the Hamas candidates will be from the West Bank, while the remaining 45% will be from the Gaza Strip.
Hayya, a member of Hamas’s Politburo, was elected to the PLC in 2006 as a representative of Gaza City.
Earlier reports suggested that Fatah and Hamas were considering contesting the parliamentary vote in a joint list.
It seems implausible that Fatah and Hamas, that have been so violently opposed to each other in the past – Hamas even murdering Fatah members in Gaza in 2007 — would run in a joint list for Parliament. Hamas smells victory, and if it is going to make an alliance of convenience with any group, it is much more likely to be the supporters of Mohammad Dahlan, who in the last opinion poll had the support of 10% of the electorate. Since that poll was taken, however, Dahlan’s popularity has soared, after he managed on his own to persuade the U.A.E. to supply 50,000 doses of the Sputnik vaccine to Gaza — quite a contrast to the ineffectual Abbas. Were Hamas and Dahlan supporters to join forces, given Hamas’ hold on 30-35% of the electorate, and Dahlan rising dramatically in the polls after his vaccine exploit, they would certainly have a good chance of taking control of the Parliament.
Asked about the return of Dahlan loyalists to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in the past few weeks, Abu Marzouk said that the move was part of a “reconciliation” between the two sides.
Dozens of former PA security officers and Fatah activists affiliated with Dahlan who fled the Gaza Strip during the 2007 Hamas takeover of the coastal enclave were allowed to return to their homes in recent weeks. The move came as part of his loyalists’ preparations to run in the PLC election.
This looks as though Hams, now perfectly aware of Dahlan’s soaring popularity, is willing to overlook the 2007 violence — and so, for that matter, are Dahlan’s loyalists — and to re-admit his supporters to Gaza so that, working together, Hamas and Dahlan can win a Parliamentary majority.
Dahlan, who was expelled from Fatah in 2011 after a fallout with Abbas, heads a group called the Democratic Reform Current.
Why do Egypt and Jordan want Abbas to cancel elections? Because they fear he and his Fatah supporters will likely lose to Hamas. Both nations know that if Hamas were to become the dominant political group in the Palestinian parliament, that would hearten the Muslim Brotherhood in their own countries. Hamas is, after all, nothing but the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood, which is the mortal enemy of both the Egyptian General, Abdelfattah el-Sisi, and the Jordanian King Abdullah. A victory for the Brotherhood in “Palestine” right next door to both Egypt and Jordan is worrisome; MB members from Egypt or Jordan might obtain weapons from, or find refuge with, Palestinians in a Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Palestinian parts of the West Bank. Furthermore, a Hamas victory would put paid to any conceivable peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Jewish state. The Americans, too, would find it impossible to treat Hamas as an acceptable interlocutor when the American government has long declared Hamas to be a “terrorist organization.”
Egypt and Jordan are trying to shake some sense into Abbas, who appears still not to realize how tenuous is his hold on power if he goes through with what was supposed to be, after all, merely a show of “democracy” for Biden and his handlers.
Abbas now insists he will go on with the elections. For 12 years he has carefully avoided them, but now, just to curry favor with the Biden Administration, he has rashly decided to risk his own office, and the parliamentary majority of Fatah, on what once looked to him like a walk in the park, but now looks, at least to his Arab neighbors, to be a likely loss. Abbas loses face if he now calls off the very elections he himself put in motion, and he loses even more if he holds those elections and Hamas wins control of the Parliament and then, perhaps, even of the Presidency.
Decisions, decisions. For Mahmoud Abbas, after years of smooth sailing, this will be a time of reckoning.
First published in Jihad Watch.