Municipal elections rarely excite international attention, say analysts Nathan Brown and Caroline Zullo. However, when elections in the West Bank and Gaza were scheduled for October 8, they represented something significant, they write for Carnegie’s Diwa bulletin:
They would have been a rare opportunity to reverse the rot in Palestinian institutions. They would also have been the first complete elections in the areas since 2004-2005. Balloting was planned across 416 municipalities—391 in the West Bank and 25 in Gaza—for local councils responsible for the delivery of services, such as water and electricity.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. In early September, the Palestinian High Court (a body that rules in litigation involving official actions) temporarily suspended the elections to consider the legitimacy of decisions taken by courts in Gaza and the fact that no elections would be held in Jerusalem.
There is an argument for holding these elections, of course, and a powerful one, according to Council on Foreign Relations analyst Elliott Abrams, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group:
There have been no parliamentary or presidential elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006 and these elections provide at least a taste of democracy. They will tell us a good deal about Palestinian public opinion. And perhaps in some cases they will produce better, meaning more responsive and competent, municipal governments. But perhaps their clearest achievement will be to show that nothing has changed since 2006 and indeed for decades more……
Nothing indicates, since the 2006 parliamentary elections, that either Hamas or Fatah is willing to engage in any conciliatory politics or allow shared governance in its areas of control, notes Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who previously served in various advisory positions with the Palestinian Authority:
Both movements face their own distinct challenges and vulnerabilities. If past experience is any guide, neither faction is likely to allow a politically damaging process to reach its conclusion…..Without a political solution to the deeper issues underlying the divisions in Palestinian politics, as well as to those creating general paralysis in the Palestinian polity, the proposed municipal vote could create a scenario that further entrenches divisions and deepens the overall political crisis.
“The citizens are the ones most affected by the postponement of the local elections,” journalist Imane Baroud told Al-Monitor. “Unfortunately, officials live peacefully in the West Bank and Gaza and we are the ones suffering from low wages, poor municipal services, poor infrastructure and high taxes, in light of the difficult economic and political situation. The decision to postpone or cancel the elections does not serve anyone. All factions agreed on the democratic process and signed a Charter of Honor to ensure the elections would be held in a timely manner.”