Why the Palestinian general elections were postponed

The challenges that forced the PA and Fatah movement to postpone the general elections

The president’s stated justifications for postponing the elections:

The Palestinian President announced that the postponement of the elections came, “in light of the decision of the expanded Palestinian leadership meeting, which included the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Central Committee of Fatah Movement, the leaders of the Palestinian national action factions, and national figures.” He justified the postponement decision by stating that the Israeli occupation prevented the holding of elections in the city of Jerusalem, asserting that “there is no abandonment of Jerusalem, and there is no abandonment of the people’s exercise of their democratic right in Jerusalem.” The president added that “Israel has decided to kill the Arabs in Jerusalem, and we will not allow that.”

The challenges that prompted the president and the Fatah movement to postpone the elections:

There is no doubt that the justifications provided by the president and the Fatah movement were not the real reasons behind postponing the elections. Undoubtedly, the president and the Fatah movement knew that postponing the elections would bring them into direct conflict with the majority of the public and other parties. However, the president postponed the elections; an action that reveals that the extent of the difficulties that the president and the Fatah movement would have faced if elections were held, and the results that would ensued. These difficulties, it seems, were greater, in their view, than the cost of clashing with the people and violating the demands to hold elections. What are the challenges that might have prompted the president and Fatah movement to postpone the elections?

First challenge: Fragmentation and lack of discipline within the movement itself

The Fatah movement faced great challenges during its journey in the Palestinian Authority in the 1996 and 2006 general elections, and in the various local elections during the past years. Perhaps the most important problems facing the Fatah movement in all the previous rounds of elections is the division in the movement’s ranks and the defection of some of its leaders and cadres to run for the elections independently. After the issuance of a decree to hold the general elections, the leadership of the Fatah movement represented by President Abbas took a decision to prevent the members of the Central Committee, the Revolutionary Council, the secretaries of the regions, members of parliament and former ministers, in addition to the security and military leaders from running for elections and to give the young generation the opportunity to run in an attempt to renew the movement’s energies and to exhibit a new image capable of attracting voters. The movement’s leadership established a set of organizational and professional criteria for those running for elections. This decision did not satisfy many of the movement’s leaders, who were waiting for this opportunity to consolidate their leadership positions by running for the upcoming legislative elections.

Second challenge: The decline in President Mahmoud Abbas’ popularity

The recent years, especially since 2014, have witnessed a decline in the popularity of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. President Abbas was elected to the presidency of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005 and was elected as the head of the Fatah movement at the sixth General Conference of the Fatah movement in 2009 and was re-elected at the seventh conference in 2016.

  • The political horizon of the peace process is closed: President Abbas has always been a proponent of a peaceful solution and negotiations and is not in favor of violent means of resistance. But with the dominance of the Israeli right headed by Benjamin Netanyahu since 2009, the peace process reached a dead end. With the continuation of the Israeli settlement expansion that disrupts the geographic contiguity of the promised Palestinian state and continuation to Judaize the city of Jerusalem, the Palestinians refused to return to negotiations unless settlement expansion stops, and thus the issue remained between ebb and flow throughout the first term of President Obama. Despite the efforts and success of US Secretary of State John Kerry in conducting negotiations between the two parties in 2013–14, these efforts met the same fate of failure. After that, the negotiations entered a state of clinical death. Nonetheless, President Abbas remained committed to the option of negotiations as the only option. Despite his advocacy of peaceful popular resistance, the Palestinian leadership did not succeed in promoting or supporting this option in a manner that would have made it an effective weapon.
  • Public dissatisfaction, especially in the Gaza Strip, with President Abbas’ policy towards the Strip: Recent years have witnessed a sharp decline in the President Abbas’ popularity in the Gaza Strip. Public opinion polls showed that the president’s popularity declined dramatically after the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014, when it dropped from 53% in June[6] 2014 before the war to 38% in September 2014[7] after the war. These findings reflected the decline of Abbas’ popularity and the rise of Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh in hypothetical presidential elections, according to two opinion polls conducted by PSR during that period. Gazans felt that they were alone in their battle with the occupation, and that the PA leadership was contributing to the siege imposed by Israel and Egypt. The decline in President Abbas’ popularity in the Gaza Strip continued after a series of measures taken by the PA leadership that reduced the delivery of basic services, such as electricity and health services, followed by measures against a large number of public employees in the Gaza Strip, including early and compulsory retirement and a suspension of salaries. Gazans saw these measures as punitive, targeting citizens in the Gaza Strip, which suffers from the scourge of the continuous and tight blockade since 2006.[8]
  • The transformation of the Palestinian political system under his rule into an authoritarian regime that lacks accountability: The Hamas movement’s control of the Gaza Strip led to the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in June 2007, which in turn led to the absence of the PLC, and the transfer of all the legislative and oversight responsibilities to the executive authority, in particular to the head of the authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Within a few years, President Abbas issued about 300 laws by decrees, the vast majority of which are ordinary, not urgent or emergency laws. The number of these decrees far exceeds the number of laws that the PLC issued during its entire tenure (1996–2007). Without a parliament, there was no longer any accountability for the executive authority, with the exception of the little exercised occasionally by the judiciary, the press, and civil society. In recent years, there has also been a major seizure of power, represented by the dissolution of the PLC in December 2018 after more than 11 years of disruption. The judiciary was also weakened by the executive authority’s failure to implement the decisions issued by the courts, in addition to interfering in the affairs of the judiciary authority, which culminated in the Decree Law No. (40) of 2020 amending the Judicial Authority Law, which strengthened the executive authority’s dominance over the judiciary. This period also witnessed the targeting of civil society’s institutions through a set of measures against non-profit companies and civil organizations, leading to the enforcement of various new restrictions on these institutions, recently represented in Decree Law No. (7) of 2021 amending the Law of Charitable Societies and Civil Organizations.[9]

The damage caused by postponing the elections:

There is no doubt that the decision to postpone the elections and the subsequent events related to Jerusalem and then the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip were the worst and most unprecedented on their effect on the popularity of the president and the popularity of Fatah. At a time when the majority of the public (about 70%) wanted the elections to be held, the president indefinitely postponed the elections. At a time when the president said that the postponement was for the sake of Jerusalem, the majority of the Palestinians (about 65%) saw the postponement not for the sake of Jerusalem, but rather for fear of the election outcome. This was followed by the events in Jerusalem, for which the elections were supposed to have been postponed. However, the president, the Palestinian Authority, and the Fatah movement did not show the public that it is doing what was expected from them in defense of Jerusalem, as only 8% of the public described the president’s performance in defending Jerusalem as strong, 11% went to the PA, and 13% went to Fateh’s, while 75% of the public described the performance of Hamas as strong.[10]


This paper proposes three recommendations to the Fatah movement and its leaders: (1) reverse the decision to postpone the elections, (2) declare Fatah’s readiness to build a governmental coalition with other (defected) Fatah lists, and (3) announce the movement’s intention to compete in the presidential elections with a candidate other than President Abbas.

  1. Conducting elections immediately, including Jerusalem, and challenging occupation measures
  1. Unity in the PLC
  1. Run in the presidential elections with a new candidate.

Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR)
email: pcpsr@pcpsr.org




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