Palestinians Haven’t Voted in 13 Years; Now Abbas Casts Doubt on Elections in 2019

By Patrick Goodenough | January 8, 2019 | 4:25am EST
Mahmoud Abbas' our-year mandate as 'president of the State of Palestine' expired ten years ago this month. Here he is photographed during a visit to Moscow on July 14, 2018. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

( – The Palestinian Legislative Council has been suspended for 12 years, and Mahmoud Abbas’ own four-year mandate as “president of the State of Palestine” expired ten years ago this month, but at the weekend he presented yet another reason why elections should not take place: Jerusalem.

During a visit to Egypt, Abbas said that if Israel does not allow elections in Jerusalem for Palestinians living there, then he will not allow elections to be held anywhere in the Palestinian territories.

Last month the Palestinian Constitutional Court ruled that the PLC – suspended since 2007, although lawmakers continue to bel paid – should be officially dissolved and new elections held within six months.

But, Abbas said in Cairo, “if elections are not allowed in Jerusalem, I will not agree to any elections.”

Abbas at the same meeting – with Egyptian journalists and writers – slammed President Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there, and said neither those moves nor the administration’s yet-to-be-unveiled “deal of the century” Mideast peace plan would change the fact that East Jerusalem is the capital of “our Palestinian state.”

According to the official Palestinian Authority news agency WAFA, Abbas reiterated that the P.A. was boycotting all contacts with the U.S. government.

“The door of Palestine is completely closed to the United States of America, unless it retracts the punitive measures taken against us,” he said. “No Palestinian will meet with the U.S. leadership, no matter what his role is.”

Abbas hinted, not for the first time, that the Palestinian leadership could cancel the Oslo Accords, the 1993 agreement brokered by the Clinton administration which established the P.A. and the PLC – a 132-seat legislature – and provided for limited self-rule in parts of the disputed territories.

When the last PLC elections were held, in January 2006, Israel did allow Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem to vote at half a dozen polling stations located at post offices, but drew criticism for seeking to prevent candidates representing the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization Hamas from campaigning in the city.

Most Palestinians in Jerusalem visited ballot stations in the West Bank to vote.

To the dismay of Israel, the U.S. and many Palestinians, Hamas won those elections, taking 44 percent of the vote to 41 percent for Abbas’ Fatah faction.

The U.S. government’s stance since then has been that Hamas will only be treated as a legitimate peace partner if it meets criteria endorsed by the so-called Mideast Quartet – the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Russia – including a renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and willingness to abide by existing negotiated agreements.

In 2007, Hamas violently wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas loyalists.

Palestinian politics have been fractured ever since, with Abbas’ administration, headquartered in Ramallah, effectively limited to parts of the West Bank. Numerous efforts at Fatah-Hamas reconciliation have failed, and the rift has been cited to justify the absence of legislative and presidential elections over the years since.

With the PLC suspended, Palestinians enjoy few democratic rights even as Western nations continue to subsidize the P.A. – including paying the salaries of PLC members, a bill of roughly $1 million a month, according to WAFA.

Fourteen years into a four-year term

Meanwhile Abbas continues to hold the title of “president of the State of Palestine,” a decade after his own mandate expired.

In the run-up to the January 2009 expiration, Abbas issued a decree “extending” his tenure for one year, but amid the ongoing Fatah-Hamas rift the rescheduled January 2010 presidential elections were then postponed indefinitely, also by decree.

Despite the fact there have been no elections since, the United Nations continues to treat Abbas with deference and prioritize the Palestinian cause.

Later this month Abbas heads to the U.N. in New York to assume the chairmanship of the large bloc of developing nations at the world body, the 134-member G77 + China.

The bloc, which accounts for a majority in the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, decided in a vote last July to hand its presidency to the “State of Palestine” despite protests from the U.S. and Israel.

Another vote, this time by the full General Assembly in October, temporarily bestowed on the Palestinian observer mission the powers of a member-state, to facilitate its G77 presidency.

Before that vote, U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen pointed out that the corps of U.N. member-states does not include a “state of Palestine” and said it was inappropriate for an observer mission to speak and act on behalf of a major group of member-states.

His argument evidently held little sway, as only the U.S., Israel and Australia cast dissenting votes.

In Cairo, Abbas announced his plan to go to New York to assume the G77 presidency, a move which he said “will strengthen the State of Palestine’s status in the international arena.”

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