The upcoming elections in Occupied Palestine — scheduled for May 22 for legislative representatives, July 31 for president and August 31 for National Council — present challenges, opportunities and threats that vary greatly depending on where young Palestinians live.
Exclusion of East Jerusalem
“I desperately want to vote in the Palestinian elections, yet I cannot,” says Layal, 25, who lives in Jerusalem. But Israeli occupation separates East Jerusalem from other Palestinian cities and prevents Palestinians who live there from having Palestinian ID cards.
Nearly 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have expressed their intention to vote in the upcoming elections. Voters in East Jerusalem would raise that number by several hundred thousand if they were allowed to vote. In 2005, residents in East Jerusalem voted at Israeli post offices in their parts of the city, but the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority disagree about whether such voting would be allowed again. Some people are proposing to put polling areas near Al-Aqsa mosque and the church of Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, but many Palestinians in Jerusalem are not sure how well that would work. At best, having just two polling places would make access difficult for residents and at worst, Israeli checkpoints at the gates of the city would simply block voters’ access. Complicating matters, a spokesperson for the European Union reports that there is still no response from Israel about facilitating the entry of European observers into Jerusalem to guarantee a legitimate election.
Skepticism tempers enthusiasm
The residents in the Gaza Strip and West Bank will be able to vote, but they have been disappointed several times in the past 15 years when elections were announced and then cancelled. Each time elections were cancelled, voters’ hopes for change were dashed and, as a result, this time Palestinian youth question whether the elections plans are credible. They do not know whether this time the government or even the parties can be trusted.
Some young Palestinians who participate in the parties and follow their agendas are full of hope that their party will win the elections. They also try their best to convince other people to vote for their party. All of these activities give them the chance to become effective participants in the democratic process. At the other end of the spectrum are youths who now do not trust any party. They wonder if these elections are real or are just another political lie to manipulate the people. Also, some youth even wish the election would not happen. These people, unfortunately, are refusing to vote and justify their refusal by saying their vote will not change a thing unless the current candidates are changed.
It is worth noting that people in the streets are asking for a change. They sought adjustments in the party lists of candidates — lists that were just closed — because the names on the lists were the same people who have caused internal conflicts among Palestinians in the first place. As a result, there were calls for youth and independent people to stand for both presidential and legislative elections. As a result, young people, independent of parties, have presented at least three of the 35 electoral lists in the upcoming elections
Fears of consequences
People are worried about if and whether there might be a repeat of the 2005 elections, when stark differences in voting patterns led to a split in governance between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in the West Bank. In the past several years, efforts have been made to mend the differences between the sides, but voters are concerned that the outcomes of the elections might lead again to another severe split. Because the election process heightens political fervour and ideological fervor, people on the street worry that members of any party that loses the elections may not accept the result. This is really worrying, since the status quo in Palestine will not bear another dreadful split. People are also afraid of what long-term impacts the election results will have on the Palestinian cause.
The impact of COVID
A large and non-political challenge to the elections is COVID-19. The Palestinian Ministry of Health is warning of an increasing peak of COVID-19, resulting in an extension of the state of emergency in the West Bank for another month. Palestinians are questioning how easy it will be for them to hold the elections and vote during the pandemic.
To conclude, Palestine is taking a very important step in its political path that surely will affect its national project. It is difficult to envision the long-term legitimacy of these elections without the participation of those Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem. Palestinian elections law should support the right of East Jerusalem residents to stand for election and to vote. These changes would improve the credibility of the vote.
It is important that these challenges and concerns are surmounted in ways that do not jeopardize the outcome. The 2021 elections are crucial for the betterment of Palestine. The outcome of the vote must be the formation of a new government that will work on the sustainability of society and that will focus on final status issues such as refugees and their right of return.