The Participants in a panel discussion organized by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) on the local elections stressed the importance of dialogue and discussion between the various factions to hold simultaneously the local elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the joint work in order to overcome the obstacles and create a suitable environment. They also emphasized that postponing the elections is possible to ensure holding them. Moreover, the participants called upon Hamas Movement to reconsider its position of rejecting the elections. The participants also stressed that Hamas Movement should seek to hold the elections and guarantee the Gaza Strip’s participation in them under with the support of civil society. Furthermore, the participants called upon the Palestinian President, Government, Fatah Movement and the authorities in Gaza to work for providing a proper environment in order to hold free and fair elections.
Those recommendations came during a panel discussion organized by PCHR on Sunday morning, 19 February 2017, in its head office in Gaza City regarding the local elections. The panel discussion was attended by representatives of national and Islamic factions, representatives of civil society organizations and the Central Election Commission (CEC). The meeting discussed the pressure practiced towards holding local elections, where the participation of all is ensured.
PCHR Director, Raji Sourani, opened the meeting with the following words: “the elections are an important step to end the division and a milestone to ensure the democratization process. We should understand that holding the elections is not a luxury, but an important and strategic issue for the renewal of legitimacies at the parliamentary and presidential levels despite the current political circumstances… the local elections are indeed very important at this time, and we are surprised of hindering them at the time of holding the internal elections in both Fatah and Hamas Movements.
Dr. Ismail Radwan, Spokesperson of Hamas Movement, said that holding the elections is important to consolidate democracy. However, he added that three environments should be available to hold free and fair elections accepted by all. The first of which is the secure environment that ensures transparency and integrity and end of chasing Hamas activists by the security services in the West Bank, including arresting them. The second one is the legal environment by referring to the 2005 Elections Law. The third one is the political environment, which means canceling the presidential decree stipulating to form a court for the elections instead of the Court of First Instance.
Kayid al-Ghoul, representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), confirmed that the local elections should be held, in spite of the legal and political defects, pointing out that the elections of students unions and syndicates are being held under the same conditions. Al-Ghoul said that not holding the local elections is considered as a violation of civilians’ rights. He was also surprised that Hamas Movement took its position to prevent the local elections in the Gaza Strip, “although it is not a government” without consulting other factions.
Jameel Sarhan, Director of the Palestinian Independent Commission of Human Rights (ICHR) in the Gaza Strip, talked about the importance of holding the elections even under the current circumstances, considering that taking the security, political and legal environment as an excuse cannot be a reason to hinder the elections.
‘Aref Jaffal, Director of the Arab World Democracy and Electoral Monitor (al-Marsad), emphasized that the forming a competent court for elections has been a demand by the civil society organizations since the local elections in 2012. It should be noted that there was a conflict in the First Instance Courts’ decisions in the West Bank that issued 8 different decisions in 8 First Instance Courts in similar cases. Jaffal also demanded that Hamas Movement’s refusal to participate in the local elections would not be a final decision in order to give an opportunity for the civil society organizations to have a significant role in the convergence of views. He also said that the elections could be postponed if Hamas has a desire of holding them.
Majdi Abu Zaid, Director of the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (Aman), said that Aman and al-Marsad held a prolonged sessions with the relevant parties in the West Bank, including the Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, and Legislative Council (PLC) Members affiliated with Hamas Movement. Abu Zaid pointed out that the EU has the intention to provide financial aid only for the elected municipalities through the Municipal Development and Lending Fund (MDLF), so the non-elected municipalities will not get this aid.
Amjad al-Shawa, Director of Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO) in Gaza, stressed that holding the elections is a necessity and right for every person and it is not a grant from anyone. He also believed that Hamas Movement, which accused the Palestinian President of individually taking decisions, did so when they did not consult others and refused to hold the elections in Gaza. He called upon Hamas Movement to reconsider its position and demanded holding an urgent meeting to form understandings that ensure holding the elections simultaneously in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.