Adnan Abu Amer
Head of the Political Science Department
University of the Ummah in Gaza
MIFTAH – The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy
Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy
Ayah Omran Randall
Doha Institute for Graduate Studies
Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science, College of Liberal Arts
University of Massachusetts Boston
On May 5, 2021, Arab Center Washington DC and the Institute for Palestine Studies cosponsored and held the second of two webinars on the Palestinian elections. Titled “Political Implications of the 2021 Elections for Palestinian National Aspirations,” the event featured four experts who addressed the buildup to the 2021 elections as well as their recent postponement. Speakers were Adnan Abu Amer, Head of the Political Science Department, University of the Ummah in Gaza; Tahreer Araj, Executive Director of MIFTAH – The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy; Salem Barahmeh, Executive Director of the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy; and Ayah Omran Randall, Assistant Professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. Leila Farsakh, who serves as Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, was the moderator.
In discussing the announcement on April 29 by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinian elections will be postponed indefinitely, the panelists explored the dynamics behind this announcement and the impact of holding elections and the recent election postponement on Palestinian politics and national aspirations. Topics included Palestinian rights, national reconciliation, and the prospects of a negotiated peace agreement and a Palestinian state. Speakers highlighted the dynamics of current intra-Palestinian political divisions and paralysis, ramifications for future elections, the role of youth, and Palestinian public reactions to the delay announcement. They also analyzed the perspectives and expectations of the international community, especially the Biden Administration and the European Union.
Several of the panelists noted that the Palestinian public fully expected Abbas to postpone the elections, especially since indications were that his Fatah Party was facing a probable electoral upset. Adnan Abu Amer characterized the reactions of Palestinians to Abbas’s decision as “a power grab, a constitutional crime, and a monopoly of decision-making,” especially since an entire generation of Palestinians had never had a chance to vote (as the last elections were in 2006). He said that many believe that Abbas’s decision directly served Israel’s interests. Tahreer Araj argued that this decision undermined the Palestinian people’s ability to exercise their rights in a democratic fashion, adding that such elections could have created an institution-based (rather than individual-based) political structure and offered an opportunity to rebuild the Palestinian National Council so it could play a role in breathing new life into the PLO. Ayah Omran Randall maintained that in order to have fair elections in the first place, the Palestinian Authority must implement reforms, especially of its ambiguous basic laws, and to resolve the conflict between Fatah and Hamas as well as integrate new political players into the electoral scene. In that vein, Salem Barahmeh expounded on the marginalization of Palestinian youth in this election, and in the overall political process, saying that this has inculcated in them a sense of frustration and disenfranchisement. He described an innovative exercise by youth—the newly formed Jeel al-Tajdeed al-Dimuqrati list—to hold virtual elections on May 31 by running on a progressive program based on education, health care, and jobs and connecting these with the Palestinian national movement.