PA vows to hold elections
Local elections are on the cards, but Hamas continues to protest that it has no freedom to campaign in the West Bank, reports Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is planning to hold local elections in the West Bank in mid-October despite Hamas's refusal to do likewise in the Gaza Strip.
The Fatah-dominated PA views elections as the ultimate arbiter between itself and Islamist Hamas, which is in control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas views elections as the would-be fruit of national reconciliation with Fatah.
Despite several agreements and understandings reached through active Arab -- especially Egyptian -- mediation, the two main Palestinian political groups have failed to reach a solid final agreement that would end more than five years of tension, starting soon after Hamas defeated Fatah in the 2006 general elections.
With a supposedly large chunk of eligible Palestinian voters set to boycott the upcoming elections, it is expected that the turnout will be modest, which would allow Hamas to further question the credibility of the elections under current circumstances.
Most of the municipal and local councils in the West Bank are already controlled by Fatah following the sacking of pro-Hamas councils and mayors in the context of the oft-bitter hostility between the two groups.
In many cities and localities, the PA has been refusing to organise elections, fearing Islamists would win the polls.
However, with Hamas substantially weakened in the West Bank due to a combined repression campaign by the PA security agencies and the Israeli occupation army, which saw most Hamas's community leaders and members of parliament thrown behind bars, the PA seems fairly encouraged to hold the elections.
Hamas has been demanding, but to no avail, that the PA introduce preparations for genuine elections, including allowing freedom of speech and other civil liberties that would allow Islamists to campaign freely.
Israel, for its part, has kept up its vehement hostility towards Hamas, vowing to detain Islamist candidates for their "affiliation with a terrorist organisation".
The PA admits it can do nothing to prevent Israel from targeting Hamas, apart from appealing to the international community to pressure Tel Aviv.
But international pressure on Israel may not be good enough for Hamas to risk delivering its leaders and candidates into the jaws of the lion -- risking having a new generation of Islamist leaders languishing in open-ended detention in Israeli jails and detention camps without charge or trial.
The holding of local elections in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, comes in the midst of severe political and economic crises facing the PA and threatening its very survival.
Earlier this week, the extremist Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called for the elimination of President Mahmoud Abbas, calling him a terrorist.
Lieberman is the second most powerful politician in Israel following Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and his remarks shouldn't be taken lightly.
Abbas has vowed to once again seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state. However, it seems that behind-the-scenes pressure by the United States and its allies may have succeeded in convincing the Palestinian leadership to at least postpone its UN recognition bid for the time being.
Another postponement at the UN is guaranteed to weaken Abbas in the view of his people. The aging Palestinian leader has been severely castigated of late after saying during a meeting with a visiting Israeli delegation, which included rabbis, in Ramallah last week that "Israel was created in order to stay forever."
Several Palestinian leaders and intellectuals scoffed at the remarks, calling them "treasonous and catastrophic".
Abdel-Sattar Qassem, a former presidential candidate and university professor, said Abbas had no right whatsoever to sell out the Palestinian cause.
"Palestine is not the property of the Abbas family; he has no right to cede what doesn't belong to him and his family," he said.
Nonetheless, most if not all Fatah leaders have remained mum, refusing to comment on Abbas's remarks, which most Palestinians view as an embarrassing taboo.
The main reason for Fatah's refusal to publicly distance itself from the remarks has to do with the fact that Abbas tightly controls Fatah's coffers and any severe criticisms directed at the chairman may cost the critics their financial survival.
Meanwhile, a severe economic crisis, whose harshness has no parallel since the start of the Israeli occupation 1967, is hitting hard in the occupied territories, causing families to adopt unprecedented austerity measures.
With its foreign aid and revenue dwindling, the PA government is barely able to pay salaries for its estimated 160,000 civil servants.
As a result, the PA has failed to pay electricity and water bills to Israel, prompting the Israeli government to threaten to cut off electricity to the West Bank, including Abbas's own office in Ramallah.
On Monday, 4 September, the state-run Israeli TV disclosed the content of a letter sent to Netanyahu by Energy Minister Uzi Landaou in which the latter threatened to cut electricity off to the West Bank.
Landaou, an extreme right winger, was quoted as saying that the PA was indebted to Israel for huge sums of money which would force him to cut off power to the Fayyad government.
The suffocating economic crisis is forcing most Palestinians to prioritise their spending, with many families unable to send their grown up sons and daughters back to college due to poverty.
Demonstrations protesting widespread poverty have been taking place in some areas such as Ramallah and Bethlehem. However, the scope of the protests doesn't seem to pose an immediate threat to the survival of the PA regime in Ramallah.
The PA is not a sovereign entity and is not free to carry out normal economic activities such as free import and export, due to Israeli restrictions and control over border crossings connecting the West Bank to the outside world.
This is the reason most economic experts argue that it is nearly impossible for the PA to successfully overcome its recurrent economic and financial crises as long as Israel remains in control of the Palestinian territories.
Others go as far as arguing that it too late for the Palestinians to establish a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state on the West Bank, given the phenomenal expansion of Jewish colonies throughout the occupied territory.