After a long period of 15 years , the waiting is finally over as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced parliamentary and presidential elections on Friday, the first in 15 years, in an effort to heal long-standing internal divisions.
The move is widely seen as a response to criticism of the democratic legitimacy of Palestinian political institutions, including Abbas’s presidency.
It also comes days before the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden, with whom the Palestinians want to reset relations after they reached a low under President Donald Trump.
According to a decree issued by Abbas’s office, the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31.
“The President instructed the election committee and all state apparatuses to launch a democratic election process in all cities of the homeland,” the decree said, referring to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Palestinian factions have renewed reconciliation efforts to try and present a united front since Israel reached diplomatic agreements last year with four Arab countries.
Those accords dismayed Palestinians and left them increasingly isolated in a region that has seen allegiances shift to reflect shared fears of Iran by Israel and Sunni-led Gulf Arab states.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group which is Abbas’s main domestic rival, welcomed the announcement.
“We have worked in the past months to resolve all obstacles so that we can reach this day,” a Hamas statement said.
It called for fair elections, in which “electorates can express their will without restrictions or pressures.”
With Biden taking office on January 20, “it is as if the Palestinians are telling the incoming US administration: we are ready to engage,” Gaza analyst Hani Habib said. But veteran West Bank analyst Hani al-Masri was sceptical that the elections would happen.
He cited internal disagreements within Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas, and likely US, Israeli and European Union opposition to any Palestinian government including Hamas, which they regard as a terrorist group.