An election fiasco leaves the Palestinian government weaker than ever and reduces Abbas’ popularity

There has been no progress toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians during the past decade is the refusal of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009, to embrace reasonable terms for Palestinian statehood.

Another is the dismal state of Palestinian governance. Since 2007, the Gaza Strip has been controlled by the Islamists of Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence, while in the West Bank the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has repeatedly turned aside peace initiatives.

Mr. Abbas has one big virtue: He opposes violence and has cooperated with Israel to keep the West Bank mostly peaceful since he succeeded Yasser Arafat. Otherwise, his rule has been a disaster. Elected to a four-year term as president in 2005, he has remained in office and ruled by decree for the past decade, presiding over an increasingly corrupt and unpopular regime. His repeated attempts to unify Palestinian governance by negotiation or force have failed. In January, he launched yet another initiative, calling elections for the Palestinian legislature, presidency and the ruling council of the Palestine Liberation Organization, beginning this month. The result has been another fiasco.

Mr. Abbas seemed to hope that an election would give him a new mandate and lead to the creation of a unified Palestinian government in which his secular Fatah movement would have the upper hand.

Consequently, no one was surprised when Mr. Abbas indefinitely postponed the elections on Thursday, citing as a pretext Israel’s failure to confirm that it would allow a few thousand Palestinians to vote in East Jerusalem. Not just Israel, which is paralyzed by its own political crisis, but neighboring Arab states and the United States were quietly relieved; none wished to risk a Hamas takeover of the West Bank and collapse of the fragile security order there. Yet Mr. Abbas’s retreat will likely leave him weaker and less popular than ever – and the Palestinians still stuck with a failed political system.

Palestinians enthusiastically welcomed the prospect of elections: 93 percent of those eligible registered to vote and 36 electoral tickets registered. But Hamas did not, as Mr. Abbas hoped, restrain its ambitions. Instead, it put forward a legislative slate including notorious militants, including several implicated in terrorist attacks. Fatah, meanwhile, split into three factions, including one led by younger and more popular figures. By last week, it appeared Hamas could come out ahead in the legislative elections, while polls showed Mr. Abbas could lose the presidency to Fatah challenger Marwan Barghouthi or even Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

The Biden administration is unlikely to make a priority of this problem. Then-Vice President Joe Biden was a witness to President Barack Obama’s futile attempts to work with Mr. Abbas. But Arab states would be wise to pressure the aging president to step aside for a new generation of leaders better able to compete with Hamas, revive Palestinian government and lay the groundwork for a successful state.


Arab Observer

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