Abbas Postpones Palestinian Local Elections Yet Again

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas listens to a question during a news conference in Sarajevo, August 16, 2011. (Photo: Dado Ruvic / Reuters)

Not for the first time, the Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is postponing local elections in the West Bank.  He made the announcement on Monday by decree — the form that laws have taken on the West Bank since the 2007 split with Hamas left the Palestinian legislature unable to meet, many its members marooned in the Gaza Strip or sitting in Israeli jails.

The local elections were first supposed to happen in July 2010, then were postponed til this coming Oct. 22. Abbas, whose own term expired in 2009, named no new date, but signaled that it made more sense to wait until Gaza and the West Bank were functioning in tandem again, which is supposed to happen in the coming year now that Hamas and Fatah, the political faction Abbas heads, having agreed in Cairo earlier this summer to reconcile. Skeptics point out that the reconciliation has stalled since being announced in June, under pressure from a nascent Palestinian youth movement empowered by the Arab Spring. A temporary government of technocrats, which is supposed to govern until new national elections take place, has yet to be named.

Fatah has reason to mistrust elections, voters having stunned the secular party the last time around, in 2006, by giving Hamas a parliamentary majority. But polls consistently show that while many Palestinians hold out little hope for either party, most would vote for Fatah over the Islamic Resistance Movement, the formal name for Hamas. That, at least, is the finding for legislative and presidential contests. In any jurisdiction, local elections tend to have their own dynamic and can hold surprises. And with the Palestinian leadership already grappling with a bid for statehood at the United Nations next month, taunts from the right-wing governing coalition in Israel, and the sticky internal challenge of actually making peace with one another, they’re in no mood for more uncertainty.

That includes Hamas. “We agreed in the Cairo agreement that all elections, local and parliamentary, would be held after forming the government,” Hamas official Ismail Alashkar told AP. “We welcome Abbas’ decree postponing them.”