About those Palestinian elections

 Since Mahmoud Abbas announced that he won’t stand for re-election, controversy has swirled around his intentions. Is he bluffing?  Does it mean the end of the peace process?  Will he change his mind?  Well, today I was talking with a friend who very closely monitors Palestinian election matters, who is just in town visiting from ...

 Since Mahmoud Abbas announced that he won't stand for re-election, controversy has swirled around his intentions. Is he bluffing?  Does it mean the end of the peace process?  Will he change his mind?  Well, today I was talking with a friend who very closely monitors Palestinian election matters, who is just in town visiting from Jerusalem.  He pointed out that developments on the ground suggest strongly that the elections aren't going to be held, rendering it all rather moot. 

 Basically, for the elections to be held in January, certain things need to be happening.  Once the Presidential decree was issued, the Elections Commission needed to start voter registration procedures... tomorrow.  That involves opening about 1000 voter registration centers, hiring and training some 3000 staffers, securing voting centers and preparing materials.  Evidently, none of that is happening.  That's kind of a tell.

 Part of this is because Hamas has refused to take part and is preventing anything from being organized in Gaza. That's the harvest of the Egyptian (and American-driven) failure to achieve a national unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah -- without a political agreement on the terms of co-existence, Hamas was never going to agree to elections on Fatah's terms.   West Bank only elections are unlikely, because nobody in the electoral commission wants to legitimize the division of Palestine into two distinct entities.   

 Since Mahmoud Abbas announced that he won’t stand for re-election, controversy has swirled around his intentions. Is he bluffing?  Does it mean the end of the peace process?  Will he change his mind?  Well, today I was talking with a friend who very closely monitors Palestinian election matters, who is just in town visiting from Jerusalem.  He pointed out that developments on the ground suggest strongly that the elections aren’t going to be held, rendering it all rather moot. 

 Basically, for the elections to be held in January, certain things need to be happening.  Once the Presidential decree was issued, the Elections Commission needed to start voter registration procedures… tomorrow.  That involves opening about 1000 voter registration centers, hiring and training some 3000 staffers, securing voting centers and preparing materials.  Evidently, none of that is happening.  That’s kind of a tell.

 Part of this is because Hamas has refused to take part and is preventing anything from being organized in Gaza. That’s the harvest of the Egyptian (and American-driven) failure to achieve a national unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah — without a political agreement on the terms of co-existence, Hamas was never going to agree to elections on Fatah’s terms.   West Bank only elections are unlikely, because nobody in the electoral commission wants to legitimize the division of Palestine into two distinct entities.   

 If there are no elections, it doesn’t mean that Abu Mazen is going away.  As a number of analysts have pointed out, he has shown no signs of giving up his hold on other institutional power centers – in Fatah, in the PLO, or even on the Presidency whatever the status of his electoral mandate. Most likely, by this argument, he’ll just carry on as before without anyone much caring whether or not he’s been re-elected.  This certainly won’t help the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, contribute to the rule of law or institutional development, or provide a unified and legitimate negotiating partner should talks ever get underway.  But that seems to be where this is heading. 

 As to whether there’s really some secret Palestinian plan for Salam Fayyad to unilaterally declare a state and get international recognition, with American support…. sounds unlikely to me.  Is the whole PA leadership about to quit?  Who knows?  Few people seem to have really thought through what might happen in the absence of the fig leaf of a formal peace process.  I’m interested to hear from those who have, such as my colleagues Nathan Brown (who I hear has something in the works along those lines, stay tuned) and Rob Malley (UPDATE: and right on cue…) 

Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).

He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.