JERUSALEM – President Mahmoud Abbas announced early Friday that the first Palestinian elections in 15 years will be delayed, citing a dispute with Israel to call off a vote in which his fractured Fatah party was expected to suffer another embarrassing defeat to the Hamas militant group.
Hamas slammed the move as a “coup." But the indefinite postponement will be quietly welcomed by Israel and Western countries, which view the Islamic militant group as a terrorist organization and are concerned about its growing strength.
For ordinary Palestinians, the delay leaves a long-entrenched political leadership in place that has failed to advance their hopes for statehood, heal the bitter rift between Fatah and Hamas or lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip, and which is seen as increasingly corrupt and authoritarian. Presidential elections planned for July also appeared to be on hold.
Abbas insisted elections could not be held without the full participation of Palestinians in east Jerusalem. Israel has yet to say whether it would allow voting by mail there as in past elections and has enforced a ban on Palestinian Authority activities, including campaign events.
“Faced with this difficult situation, we decided to postpone the date of holding legislative elections until the participation of Jerusalem and its people in these elections is guaranteed,” Abbas said. "There will be no concession on Jerusalem and no concession on our people in Jerusalem exercising their democratic rights.”
The fate of east Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is one of the most sensitive issues in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But delaying the elections over Jerusalem could also be seen as a pretext, because only a small number of voters in the city would actually require Israel's permission. Abbas' rivals had suggested workarounds so as not to give Israel an effective veto over elections.
Abbas said the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly sought assurances from Israel and has called on the European Union to exert pressure, to no avail. He said it received a letter from Israel on Thursday saying it could not take a position on the elections because it does not yet have a government following its own elections last month — the fourth in two years.