Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has postponed planned parliamentary elections amid a dispute over voting in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem al-Quds as well as splits in his Fatah movement and its unpopularity, triggering protests in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.
Abbas told a conference of senior Palestinian officials on Thursday night that the first Palestinian national elections in 15 years would be indefinitely delayed.
The dispute over East Jerusalem al-Quds was reportedly the official rationale for the postponement cited by Abbas in a speech early Friday following the meeting of Palestinian political factions.
“Facing this difficult situation, we decided to postpone the date of holding legislative elections until the participation of al-Quds and its people is guaranteed,” Abbas said in the speech on Palestinian TV.
Most observers see the indefinite delay as, effectively, a cancellation.
The decision came three months after he issued a formal decree ordering a vote for the Palestinian legislature on May 22 and a Palestinian presidential election on July 31.
Several demonstrations took place in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip just after Abbas postponed next month’s long-awaited parliamentary vote.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in the central occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, located 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of Jerusalem al-Quds, late on Thursday to demonstrate against the postponement of legislative elections.
The marchers waved placards as well as national Palestinian flags and chanted slogans such as “We are looking for a legitimate government” and “The people want the ballot box” in al-Manara Square.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of people had staged rallies in the Gaza Strip to condemn the Palestinian Authority chief’s plans to call off the vote.
Hamas slams ‘coup’
The Palestinian resistance movement Hamas denounced Abbas’s decision, calling it “a coup.”
“This represents a coup against the path of partnership and national consensus. Our popular and national consensus cannot be pawned as collateral for the agenda of a faction,” Hamas said in a statement.
“We knew in advance that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority were going to disrupt the electoral process, due to other interests that have nothing to do with the issue of al-Quds (Jerusalem),” the statement added.
“The Fatah movement and the Palestinian president bear full responsibility for this decision and its consequences,” it added.
Fatah split into three factions ahead of the upcoming elections â€” an official list of candidates backed by Abbas; a faction led by Palestinian political figure Marwan Barghouti; and another slate sponsored by former Fatah security official Mohammad Dahlan, who currently resides in Abu Dhabi.
Like Hamas, Barghouti’s list strongly opposed postponing the vote.
“Postponing elections is a huge setback that betrays the will of the people to hold elections. It also affirms the need for deep and wide change in the Palestinian political system,” the list of candidates wrote in a statement.
Israeli authorities have made many efforts to either cancel or postpone the polls.
Israeli forces have escalated an arrest campaign targeting key Hamas figures in the West Bank in recent months, detaining Mustafa al-Shanar, Adnan Asfour, Khalid al-Hajj, Omar al-Hanbali, Jamal al-Tawil and Khatam al-Qafisheh among others.
Fuad al-Khuffash, a Palestinian human rights researcher and expert on prisoners’ affairs, said the arrest of Hamas members and supporters in the run-up to the vote was an attempt to harm the faction’s electoral chances.
“Prior to the 2006 elections, Israel arrested more than 560 leaders and members of Hamas,” he recalled.
Khuffash said what Israel means by widespread detentions is to “empty the arena of influential figures” who can affect the vote results and to limit Hamas’s choice of candidates.
The United States was also lukewarm on the Palestinian national elections, fearful that divisions in Abbas’s Fatah movement could lead to a Hamas parliamentary victory similar to its 2006 landslide.