The EU and the US have a decisive role to play in ensuring the electoral process succeeds. In doing so, they can support Palestinian political renewal and improve prospects for a sustainable peace agreement with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has held presidential and legislative elections twice. The first were in 1996, when Yasser Arafat won the presidency and his party, Fatah, dominated the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). A presidential election was held once again in 2005 following Arafat’s death, and was won by Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas’s mandate was extended in 2009 by the PLO’s Executive Committee (EC).
Legislative elections for the PLC were held once again in 2006, at the urging of President Bush, and won by the Islamist group Hamas. The Carter Centre and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) considered the 2006 elections to have “compared favorably to international standards…with polling results reflect[ing] the will of the people”. The EU held a similar view, describing them as “another important milestone in the building of democratic institutions. These elections saw impressive voter participation in an open and fairly-contested electoral process that was efficiently administered by a professional and independent Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC).” Ultimately, however, the US-led Quartet boycotted the Hamas-led government.
On 12 December 2018, the Constitutional Court issued a decree dissolving the PLC and calling for legislative elections within 6 months — by May 2019. These failed to happen.
In January 2021, Abbas issued a presidential decree setting dates for national elections — starting with elections for the PLC on 22 May; followed by those for the PA presidency on 31 July. These were to take place in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. He also mandated the formation of a new Palestinian National Council (PNC) by 31 August. On 29 April, Abbas indefinitely postponed the electoral process citing Israel’s refusal to permit the inclusion of East Jerusalem. The move was opposed by most factions – including Hamas, the PFLP, and DFLP – as well as the Fatah’s splinter factions lead by Nasser Kidwa, Marwan Barghouti and Mohammed Dahlan. Analysts have cited Fatah’s own internal rivalries as the main reason for Abbas’s decision.
In addition, there have been three municipal and local authority elections since the PA’s creation: in 2004-05 in both the West Bank and Gaza; and in 2012 and 2017 in the West Bank only, without the participation of several Palestinian factions, including Hamas. These also excluded the refugee camps which are administered by the Camp Services Committees.
PA elections (presidential, legislative, and municipal) are regulated by the 2021 Election Law – a decree issued by Abbas. This amended the 2007 Elections Law by, inter alia, removing a provision requiring PLC candidates “to uphold the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”. Instead, PLC candidates must commit themselves to the 2003 Amended Basic Law. Presidential candidates are still required to accept the PLO.
Since 2005 Palestinian elections have been administered by the independent Central Elections Commission (CEC). The CEC includes nine Commissioners led by Hanna Nasir. They are appointed by presidential decree. The Electoral Court (created in 2021) has jurisdiction over all election related matters in Gaza and the West Bank.