J Street is concerned by the decision of President Abbas to postpone the upcoming scheduled elections in the Palestinian territory. While holding these elections and fully implementing their results would undoubtedly be difficult, the Palestinian people deserve to freely and fairly elect a unified leadership to represent them.
It’s clear that Palestinians have suffered greatly from a lack of democratic processes stemming from their internal political divisions, and that a newly-elected and legitimized leadership would be better positioned to advocate for Palestinian rights and aspirations in the face of endless occupation and de facto annexation. We believe that Palestinian political reconciliation — and the election of a leadership that can represent the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — is an essential condition needed to successfully negotiate a two-state peace agreement and create a globally recognized independent Palestinian state.
At the same time, we recognize the challenges involved with attempting to integrate Palestinian factions committed to nonviolence and diplomacy with those, like Hamas, that have frequently engaged in violence and terror. It’s critical that any new Palestinian government resulting from new elections continue to recognize Israel and reject violence as a tactic.
The reason cited by President Abbas in his decision to postpone the elections is ongoing interference by Israeli authorities with the ability of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to vote in their neighborhoods within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. Living in areas likely to form part of the capital of a future Palestinian state, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have every right to participate in the elections. J Street opposes this ongoing interference by Israeli authorities and urges the US government to make clear that it is unacceptable. Nonetheless, we don’t believe that these challenges justify indefinite postponement of greatly-needed elections.
Moving forward, we will continue to urge President Abbas to allow these elections to take place as soon as possible, while urging all Palestinian factions to embrace diplomacy with Israel and reject violence, as Abbas has. We will also continue to call on President Abbas’ government to take other swift action to increase its credibility, including replacing their harmful prisoner payments program with a responsible welfare program that addresses current concerns about possible incentivizing of violence. We have been heartened by reports that they are working on options to do this — and we encourage the US government to help them in that effort.