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Palestine elections: PA announces postponement of long-awaited poll

President Mahmoud Abbas says if Israel allows voting to take place in East Jerusalem, 'we'll hold the election within a week'
Mahmoud Abbas on a TV in Hebron
People in a coffee shop in the city of Hebron watch a speech by PA President Mahmoud Abbas regarding upcoming Palestinian elections on 29 April 2021 (AFP)

The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) agreed on Thursday to delay parliamentary elections planned for May, after citing the voting rights of Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem. 

"We have made great efforts with the international community in order to oblige the occupying state to hold the elections in Jerusalem, but these efforts have so far been rejected," official PA news agency Wafa quoted PA President Mahmoud Abbas as saying following the decision.

"In the face of this difficult situation, we decided to postpone holding the legislative elections until we guarantee the participation of the people of Jerusalem in these elections. There will be no compromise on Jerusalem, nor for the right of our people in Jerusalem to exercise their democratic right."

Speaking to a gathering of Palestinian officials on Thursday, Abbas said the European Union and other individual European countries had been unable to pressure Israel into allowing the PA to hold elections in Jerusalem. 

"As soon as Israel agrees [to let Palestinians vote in Jerusalem], we’ll hold the election within a week," Abbas said during the televised speech. 

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The Palestinian Central Elections Commission said it was suspending the election process following Abbas's decision. The election campaign was supposed to begin on Friday for a vote initially planned for 22 May.

Last week, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee that the PA rejected proposals that would see Palestinian residents of Jerusalem vote online, saying the physical Jerusalem vote was a matter of principle. 

"Some European diplomats proposed to have online elections in East Jerusalem," Shtayyeh said. "The issue is not numbers, it is political. It has to do with Israeli recognition that Palestinians in East Jerusalem have the right to vote and stand for elections."

Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital city, and does not recognise Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Under international law, Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 war. 

While the Israeli government has not made any public announcement regarding its alleged refusal to allow the PA to hold the vote, in general, Israel prohibits any PA-affiliated political activity from taking place in East Jerusalem. 

'Our eternal capital'

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that a top official from Abbas's Fatah party told the newspaper earlier on Thursday that Abbas had chosen to delay the vote rather than cancel the poll in a bid to keep pressure on Israel.

The Palestinian Authority floated the possibility of a postponement over Jerusalem voting rights last month, and the idea was met with widespread criticism. 

'It won't be written in history books that we've given up on Jerusalem'

-Mahmoud al-Alul, deputy Fatah chairman

Ahead of Thursday's meeting, the Hamas party, which governs the besieged Gaza Strip, announced its opposition to postponing the elections, which would be the first to take place since Abbas was elected 16 years ago. 

The group said that, instead, the Jerusalem vote should take place without Israel's permission, adding that "no Palestinian should accept an election without Jerusalem, our eternal capital". 

The movement blasted Abbas's postponement on Friday as a "coup against (their) partnership" and said he "would bear full responsibility for the decision and its consequences".

Hamas has been expected to do well in the parliamentary elections, which were scheduled for 22 May. Critics of Abbas have accused the president of using Jerusalem's right to vote as an excuse to avoid the election because of Hamas's projected popularity. 

But Mahmoud al-Alul, deputy chairman of Abbas's Fatah party, told Voice of Palestine radio that holding the elections without Jerusalem would effectively give up Palestinian claims to the city.

"We won't agree to any such thing," he said. "It won't be written in history books that we've given up on Jerusalem."

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