BACK ON THE AGENDA
"The question of elections is back on the agenda after President Abu Mazin [Mahmoud Abbas] has asked for a written agreement from Hamas to that effect, after which he would invite the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) to convene, pass a new electoral law and issue a decree to hold the elections without committing to a specific date," notes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
Hamas has not agreed to sign any such document; but it has renewed its agreement to hold the elections. Yet nothing has happened. Between the two sides, the elections have gone missing.
The truth is that many people do not believe that the two sides want elections to be held. As the [Arabic] saying goes, 'if it was going to rain, it would have clouded over.' The president is using Hamas' written agreement as a pretext, even though he does not need such a document since he is armed with the  Cairo Agreement which calls for elections, as well as the  Doha Declaration and the  Shati' Statement, both of which stressed that they should be held. In addition, he is armed with the PA’s Basic Law that states that the president can issue decrees to hold elections when the president and the PLC's legal terms end. Both terms have actually ended – in 2009 for the president, and 2010 for the PLC. Moreover, Hamas could sign the document and deny the president that pretext. But it wants the elections to be held as part of a comprehensive deal that includes the implementation of all the reconciliation agreement's clauses rather than deal with them selectively.
The disagreement over the elections' date is one of the most prominent apparent reasons that have prevented the implementation of the Cairo Agreement. The president has insisted that holding the elections is the only way to end the disagreement on the grounds that the results would decide which side has a majority. In that case, that side would have the right to rule in accordance with its program, while the other side would have to abide by majority rule. This is despite the fact that Palestine is under a settler-colonial occupation that is consistent with the principle that the majority should rule the minority, but that also calls for the formation of a broad national front based on common denominators and the struggle against a common enemy.
Moreover, implementing the Doha Declaration was postponed because the president has insisted that elections should be held three months after the formation of the government, while Hamas has insisted that this period of time is insufficient to prepare the appropriate climate for holding elections and implementing the Cairo Agreement. And after the Shati' Statement was signed, it became apparent that neither side insists on holding early elections, so much so that the statement called for holding elections six months after the formation of the national accord government without specifying an upper limit on how long after that the elections should be held. And here we are today, more than a year after the statement was signed with no specified date for the elections.
Based on the above, we may conclude that the occasional talk of holding elections is nothing more than a maneuver aimed at deceiving public opinion and convincing it that the other side is opposed to holding them. Neither the president nor Fateh nor Hamas want to hold elections without being sure of their results, and without first securing American, international, Arab, and – most importantly – Israeli green light.
Abu Mazin will not head to elections before knowing their function, 'the fate of the peace process', and whether negotiations can be resumed or not, and if so, in what form and based on what terms of reference. This is because holding elections in the shadow of suspended negotiations and with the 'peace process' in intensive care, and without formulating a new alternative path to the  Oslo Accords would mean that the president and Fateh's chances of success are not guaranteed.
Moreover, the president will not head to elections without finishing the job of 'putting the Fateh household in order', holding the 7th Fateh Conference, what to do about [former Fateh security official and Abbas critic and potential competitor] Dahlan and his supporters, and reaching some formula regarding Fateh's candidate for the next presidency. This is especially significant in light of the president's repeated declarations that he will not run for a second term. If he does run, he would seem to have broken his promise. Therefore, he prefers to maintain the current situation since all powers are now in his hands.
Here, the issue of the identity of Fateh's presidential candidate emerges in light of the number of contenders who will compete if Abu Mazin does not run for a second term, and in light of [Israeli] imprisoned Marwan Barghouti insistence on running in any future presidential elections even from behind bars. After all, opinion polls indicate that he is the candidate most likely to win even if Abu Mazin runs for a second term. In fact, if he wins, this could be his last chance of being released in the hope that his victory would lead to international pressure on Israel to release an imprisoned elected Palestinian president.
For its part, Hamas, is wary of holding elections in the shadow of the continued siege of the Gaza Strip, the employees' salaries crisis, the lack of progress in reconstruction of the Strip, the specter of a new Israeli aggression looming over Gaza, and after the fall of [former Egyptian president] Mohammad Mursi and the hostility between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling regime in Egypt. It also fears that it may lose or win fewer seats than in the previous elections. This is despite the fact that it should lose whatever happens. This is because, if it wins, it will be unable to rule, especially in the West Bank, for the same reasons having to do with Israel's opposition, the International Quartet's preconditions and the Egyptian regime's hostility towards it. For this reason, Hamas also prefers the current status quo to persist with its control over the Gaza Strip while it wagers on new Palestinian, Arab, regional, international, and Israeli developments.
The elections issue raises many major questions including the following: Will they be held in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? Will they be held on the same bases that governed the previous elections, especially in regard to abiding with the obligations of the Oslo Accords now that Israel has completely ignored them? Or will they be held on the basis of what happens after international recognition of the Palestinian state, with the entire Palestinian people taking part in the vote wherever they can, thereby paving the way to a new course that is capable of saving the cause, the nation, and the land?
And will Israel agree to elections in a Palestinian state or any elections that unite the Palestinians? Of course it will not. It is also doubtful whether it would agree to elections for a self-rule authority after stripping it of all of its powers, and after the formation of the most extreme Israeli government since the establishment of the state; a government that will only agree to elections in return for a very steep price. Moreover, it will refuse to hold them in Jerusalem, 'the eternal united capital of Israel.' And it may refuse to allow any Palestinian bloc to participate that does not abide by the existing limited self-rule [PA] authority, which is committed to recognizing Israel, security coordination, economic dependency, and renouncing violence.
And even if Israel were to agree to the elections, it would be because it will secure great benefits as a result, including a guarantee that the inter-Palestinian split would persist and be consolidated, and become a permanent division. After all, the occupation is not an external factor; it is a major factor that may intervene at any point and decide whether elections may or may not be held; and it can intervene if the elections' results do not suit it and 'confiscate' these results as happened after Hamas won the previous  elections and it arrested tens of MPs and ministers.
But the root of the issue is that the source of legitimacy in any country under occupation by another that is the embodiment of a racist, settler, colonial project does not stem from the ballot box. It stems from resistance that clings to its aims and to rights, and that seeks the national interest and is based on national accord.
The heresy of holding elections under occupation, which was one of the results of the Oslo Accords, was based on the assumption that they would be held only one time and would help to reach a final status agreement that ends the occupation and establishes a Palestinian state within five years. General elections were held in 1996, bestowing legitimacy upon the authority that emerged from the Oslo Accords. But the five years passed and the occupation deepened instead of being ended. [Presidential and parliamentary] elections were also held in 2005 and 2006 to renew the PA's legitimacy which had eroded, and to include Hamas and the other forces that had boycotted the first elections, bringing them all under the ceiling of the Oslo Accords. But the results contradicted the expectations, with all the consequences that ensued.
Rather than replicate the same mistakes and head for elections that bestow renewed legitimacy to the occupation and present it in a manner that contradicts its true nature, granting it a golden opportunity to try and liquidate the Palestinian cause, we should draw the necessary lessons and morals. Elections are one of the forms of the embodiment of freedom and sovereignty; and there can be no freedom or sovereignty under occupation.
Any elections held in the shadow of a deep vertical and horizontal split and in the absence of a political horizon, without opening the doors to confrontation with the occupation, without national accord, and in tandem with campaigns of incitement, detention and mutual summoning, and in the presence of factional security services loyal to the conflicting parties but not to the general public interest, would be nothing less than a leap into the unknown.
In such a climate, elections cannot be free and open, or express the will of the people. And it is very likely that the losing side will not accept their results and that they will be subjected to forgery.
Anyone who truly wants general elections must provide the climate suitable for holding them. This includes, for example, the separation and independence of the three powers in order to ensure supervision, accountability, and answerability. Moreover, the PA government and the PLO’s various institutions must fulfil their roles. If the PA's institutions cannot operate freely, this may be compensated for by rehabilitating and empowering the PLO's institutions. Those who really want general elections should also ensure freedom of the media, human rights and basic freedoms, and regular elections at the various local and sectorial levels.
"General elections have no value if they are not held on the eve or after, the occupation's defeat and unless they occur in the context of redefining the national project, reviving the Palestinian cause, uniting the nation wherever it is present, radically renewing the national movement, and rebuilding the PLO's institutions to include all shades of the political and social spectrum," concludes Masri.