Mahmoud Abbas has fired the starting gun on presidential and parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza – 15 years after Palestinians last went to the polls. The Palestinian president signed a decree on Friday scheduling parliamentary elections for 22 May. Presidential elections will follow two months later on 31 July, with a vote for the Palestinian National Council – the PLO’s elected body – scheduled on 31 August. Palestinians last voted in a presidential election in 2005 when Abbas won a four-year term. Parliamentary elections were held a year later but resulted in a victory for Islamist terror group Hamas, which then staged a violent coup in Gaza in 2007. Hamas has agreed to the new elections as part of the latest efforts to broker a reconciliation agreement between it and Abbas’ Fatah movement.
Numerous previous deals have fallen apart, not least because of Hamas’ unwillingness to give up its weapons. Abbas has scheduled – and then cancelled – elections on previous occasions and there is scepticism about whether the new polls will go ahead. Polls indicate that, should he choose to run again, the 85-year-old Abbas faces defeat by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Abbas’ move is seen by some as an effort to curry favour with the incoming Biden administration. “Abbas may want to restore his legitimacy in front of the international community, after ruling for so many years without elections. The regional picture has also changed dramatically over the last few months, with the normalization agreements between Israel and the Arab states,” said Palestinian political analyst Jihad Harb. The PA says it will request the elections also take place in East Jerusalem.
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