Written by: Sania Al-Husseini 

President Mahmoud Abbas issued a presidential decree on the 15th of January 2020, calling for the holding of Palestinian elections, in light of the local, regional and international transformations. Elections in the occupied territories were planned several times in recent years, but no presidential decree was ever signed. However, this time, the issuance of the presidential decree, regarding the holding of elections, reflects the seriousness of this step forward and the possibility of its achievement. According to the presidential decree, the holding of general elections in Palestine will be conducted in a sequence, that is, beginning with legislative elections in the first stage. The holding of elections also comes within the occupied Palestinian territories, which means that it is subject to the rules of the Oslo Accords. These elections remain affected by the restrictions of the occupying forces, which control the aspects of Palestinian life and explicitly rejects the holding of elections in occupied Jerusalem, based on political considerations.

Despite these crucial issues, which are at the core of the Palestinian cause, especially the need to hold elections for a Palestinian state under occupation that represents all Palestinians, including Jerusalem and the diaspora, this step is an indispensable prelude to achieving the national goals that were announced at the Secretaries-General meeting last September. If the Palestinians succeed in reaching the first stage, the elections will contribute to the following:

  1. The restoration of the democratic and legal appearance in the occupied territories, which is an important issue that reflects the state of Palestinian legitimacy, at the international level, which believes in democratic representation, and at the national level, which will embody the aspects of democratic life. The presence of three authorities whose functions are distinct and complementary.
  2. The achievement of unity and reconciliation, which the Palestinians have not succeeded in during the past years.

These two steps are fundamental to restoring the level of trust in the Palestinian society, which has been at a steady decline due to the ongoing political division. Increasing the level of trust is necessary in order to reach the next stage of facing the occupation policies and building the Palestinian state that the Palestinians aspire to achieve.

Recently, there have been many important international and regional transformations that affected Palestinians. The success of Joe Biden in the recent US presidential elections ended a period of stalemate in US-Palestinian relations and is a prelude to a new phase that carries hope for the renewal of the peace process. This transformation came in light of the international and Western calls calling for the Palestinians to hold elections that end the division, restore legitimacy, and achieve democracy in the occupied territories. On the Arab regional level, the last era witnessed two events that greatly contributed to the recrystallization of the Palestinian vision. The first concerns normalization agreements between four Arab countries and Israel, including two Gulf states. The second concerns the Gulf-Gulf reconciliation, which is supposed to have a role in strengthening Arab-Israeli relations.

Additionally, the presidential decree to hold elections came after the Palestinian President issued a number of unilateral amendments to the Palestinian Election Law, after Hamas sent President Abbas a written letter of approval to hold elections in a successive manner. The recent sequence of events reflects a consensus between Hamas and the Fatah Movement that has not happened before throughout the years of division. Despite their failure to reach an understanding on core issues, they reached a consensus on the holding of general elections.

According to the text of the presidential decree, the Palestinian Legislative Council elections will be held on 22.05.2021, presidential elections will be held on 31.07.2021 and the Palestinian National Council elections will be held on 31.08.2021. Further, Hamas agreed to abandon its requirement of holding presidential and legislative elections at the same time. The President amended the Election Law so that it is no longer required for members of the Legislative Council to acknowledge the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Therefore, all of the previously mentioned events indicate the achievement of consensus between the Fatah Movement and Hamas.

Although a presidential decree was issued that calls for the holding of general elections in Palestine, there are not any definitive guarantees that these elections will be held. Israel has not yet agreed to hold elections in Jerusalem, in which it refused the holding of elections in Jerusalem in 2019; but for now, this excuse is not sufficient to prevent them from taking place. Moreover, the ongoing Coronavirus crisis may constitute an obstacle to holding these elections, but it is not sufficient to prevent them from taking place as well, if the political consensus continues to move forward to hold them. However, the real obstacle that may prevent the holding of elections is the eruption of central differences between the Fatah Movement and Hamas, which were overlooked to achieve this consensus in regard to elections. The meeting expected at the beginning of next month in Cairo to discuss the details of holding the elections and ensuring their success is an important indication of the extent to which this consensus can continue.

In all cases, if consensual elections occur, they would save the Palestinian scene from the state of deadlock and division that it has lived through for years. The harmony between the Fatah Movement and Hamas may end the division, even if it is only formally, renew the legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership and strengthen its foundations to confront the upcoming challenges. These elections pave the way for entering into a negotiated peace process that the new American president is expected to call for in order to solve the Palestinian issue. Elections will also invalidate the argument that Israel has long-used, which is that there is no Palestinian partner representing all Palestinians, in order to disavow its obligations with them in the peace process.


The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.