Palestinian elections ‘only in West Bank’
Palestinian local elections in October will only be held in the West Bank as Hamas is hampering preparations in Gaza, a senior electoral official said on Wednesday.
Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, the official said the government had informed the Central Elections Commission (CEC) of a decision taken earlier on Wednesday.
“The elections committee was informed today by the government that it had decided to hold municipal elections only in the West Bank on October 22,” he said.
An official government statement was expected during the evening.
The issue was the subject of a special cabinet session earlier on Wednesday after the CEC sent a letter to say it was proving impossible to prepare for elections in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, the official said.
“We sent a letter to the government to say we cannot work in Gaza to prepare for the elections.”
“Until now, Hamas has prevented the elections committee from doing its work in Gaza. Our staff cannot work because our offices are closed and they have confiscated our cars,” he said.
There was no immediate reaction from Hamas.
Local elections had originally been scheduled for July 9 but following a surprise reconciliation deal between Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement and the rival Hamas which was signed in early May, the date was put back to October 22.
At the time, local development minister Khaled Al Qawasmeh said the decision was taken on the advice of the CEC, which said it would have been unable to organize simultaneous elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by July.
The West Bank and Gaza Strip are separated by Israeli territory. The coastal strip is ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement, while the West Bank is under the Palestinian Authority, which is controlled by the secular Fatah movement. The two groups have been locked in a bitter dispute for years.
The dispute boiled over in 2007, a year after Hamas won a surprise victory in legislative elections, culminating in street battles between the two groups in Gaza.
Hamas wrested control of the Gaza strip from Fatah, leaving Mr. Abbas’s party to run a parallel government unable to extend control beyond the West Bank.
In late April, the sides announced that they were ending their fight and would jointly appoint a caretaker government of independent delegates to prepare for general elections within a year.
But efforts to implement the unexpected deal have so far led nowhere, with each side blaming the other for an impasse reportedly caused by a disagreement between Fatah and Hamas over who will be interim prime minister.
The last time the Palestinians went to the polls was for parliamentary elections in 2006, which Hamas won by a landslide.
New parliamentary and presidential elections had been due to be held in January 2010 but the Palestinian Authority abandoned efforts to hold a vote after Hamas refused to organize one in Gaza.