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Abbas was offered Palestinian election workaround but delayed vote anyway, says official

Palestinian Authority denies official's claims and defends postponement while observers question president's motivation
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the postponement of the parliamentary elections on Friday (AFP)

Mahmoud Abbas was offered at least four solutions to allow the first Palestinian elections in 15 years to move forward next month instead of shelving them, a Palestinian official with direct knowledge of election plans told Middle East Eye.

Early on Friday, the Palestinian president announced that parliamentary elections scheduled for 22 May would be indefinitely delayed, citing concerns for the voting rights of Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem.

But a source involved in election logistics told MEE that in recent weeks Abbas had been presented with several workable options for East Jerusalem during internal meetings. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

He said possible solutions included putting voting stations in UN facilities in Jerusalem or in European embassies, facilitating electronic voting or putting polling stations inside of Jerusalem.

Instead, Abbas used Jerusalem as an excuse to delay the elections and protect his position against rivals within his own Fatah party, the source said, expressing frustration over long hours spent preparing for the polls. 

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"There was a real will to have an election, but from the first day that [Fatah rival Marwan] Barghouti decided to run, we knew there will be no election," the source said.

Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader who is serving multiple life sentences in Israel for allegedly organising deadly attacks during the Second Intifada, allied himself with the dissident faction the Freedom List earlier this month.

The faction is led by Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"The election really was serious. There was no problem with Hamas. There was an agreement. The problem was inside Fatah," the source added.

A member of the Palestinian Authority's executive committee, however, denied that there had been any solutions on the table for Jerusalem.

"It's all not true and it didn't happen. The European Union didn't propose anything for us, nor the United Nations," said Ahmad Majdalani, a former minister and ambassador.

"We can't conduct an election without Jerusalem, otherwise we will support the Deal of the Century," he said, referring to the controversial peace plan proposed by Donald Trump which proposed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. "So what do you think - what choice is better?"

'A king without a kingdom'

Several Palestinian election participants and observers across the occupied territories said they weren't at all convinced that Jerusalem was the real reason behind the postponement.

Awni Almashin, a political activist who is running on Barghouti's list, said he wasn't surprised by the delay, which would clearly negatively impact the PA's status and power. The bigger concern, he said, is the power that Abbas has handed to Israel by using Jerusalem as an excuse.

"What happened in a meeting of two factors. From one side, some of the groups fear they will lose their power. From the other side is Israel's lack of will for an election. The interests of Israel and Abu Mazen [Abbas] have met," Almashin said.

"What is more dangerous is not only postponing the election, but Abu Mazen putting that in the hand of Israel."

Inas Abbad, a political science researcher and lecturer based in Jerusalem, said that, for her, the postponement raised questions about who the United States would proceed with as a broker of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

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"You can't continue to negotiate with someone who isn't elected and went against the people," she said. 

Abbas, Abbad said, could have used the concerns over East Jerusalem to emphasise just how important the elections were and push forward with them. But instead, he used them as an escape.

"Our situation now, keeping Abbas until his death, is taking us back like other Arab countries and reminds us of other Arab leaders. We are in an era of a king without a kingdom, without land and without authority."

In Gaza, political analyst Dr Abnan Abu Amir said he believed there were many formulas that could have been made to prevent a postponement.

The real reason, he said, is the "state of fragmentation" within Fatah and Abbas's concerns over the "disastrous results" that would have resulted from an election.  

"The magic will turn on the magician because Abu Mazen, who argued that the occupation did not allow for the elections to take place in Jerusalem, by postponing the elections, has had to identify with Israel itself," he said.

In Hebron, human rights advocate Issa Amro said it was clear to him that Abbas and his supporters stopped the election out of fear that they would lose to Marwan Barghouti and it was time for Palestinians to "prepare for war".

"I feel frustrated and disappointed with the current Palestinian leadership, which is aged and incapacitated, and is unable to achieve the minimum level of Palestinian rights," he told MEE.

"We must put pressure on Israel to allow the elections, so we won't leave any excuses for those who are not interested in the elections," he said.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.