Abbas in 2010 Photo Israel GPO by Moshe MilnerAbbas's call for municipal elections in October could destroy his government and bring Hamas to power in the so-called "West Bank." What reward could justify such a risk? He calls it the Jerusalem gambit.


According to DEBKAfile, an Israeli intelligence news service, the US, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel have warned octogenarian Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas against holding 8 October municipal elections. Abbas has called for the elections in Palestinian-ruled towns and locales in the so-called "West Bank," and also in the Gaza Strip.

Why now?

Abbas hoped to catch the Islamist Hamas off guard at a time when it was in hot water in the Arab world, primarily vis-a-vis Iran. In the pullback of financial support from sympathetic Arab states, he calculated that Hamas was in desperate financial straits, a reality that should have weakened it politically, especially among its Gazan constituents.

Instead, Hamas turned the tables on Abbas and announced that this time, unlike 2012 when the Islamic fundamentalist group opted out of elections, it was more than ready to put up candidates to challenge Fatah politicians for local offices.

Even at this early stage, more than a million people have registered to cast ballots in October.

Abbas was warned that going through with elections would mean exposing his Fatah party to the kind of defeat it experienced in parliamentary elections Palestinians held 10 years ago, when Hamas swept to a majority in the legislature.

Still, at least for now, he is moving ahead. Why the gamble? After all, there is a significant risk of political self-destruction.

In order to accomplish its primary goal in October elections, Hamas does not need the 400 offices up for grabs. Running for them is enough. Hamas campaigns will give the Islamist party a chance to restore its wrecked political infrastructure in Judea and Samaria.

Dismantling the networks Hamas once had there took three years of hard work by US, Israeli and Palestinian intelligence and security agencies. This coming election would turn to that achievement to scrap.

No one doubts that on 9 October, one day after the vote, Hamas will gallop back into the so-called "West Bank," riding the steed of its campaign apparatus and voter support, re-establishing its terror networks. As a result, Israeli and Americans officials, see the elections leading to an upsurge of the murderous terror wave that hit Israel almost one year ago. Although it has been abating, "West Bank" elections are likely to renew it.

These officials embarked on a mission to meet with Palestinian figures, wanting to warn them that elections would open a Pandora’s Box. But when they went to Ramallah, they found it in a state of chaos. The political situation is so bad, it is impossible to sort out who supports whom in the tangled loyalties among Palestinian factions, activists and various families and clans.

Some Fatah activists appear to be planning to break away from their party's leader, Mahmoud Abbas and run on independent lists. Among them are prominent figures like Ghassan Shak’a, mayor of Nablus near the northern border of the "West Bank." To oppose him, Abbas's followers have tagged Mohammad Ayish, a local businessman who headed the town’s Hamas list four years ago.

Meanwhile in a subdivision of Ramallah, Fatah adherents in Al-Bireh have set up five separate lists.

What does it mean? Just this. Before election campaigning gets off the ground, Abbas's own party, Fatah, is rife with deep divisions.

The good news, perhaps, is that Hamas is in not much better shape.

Hamas has been holding out for Muhammad Dahlan. Dahlan is a former strongman of Gaza and hated enemy of Abbas. Today he is a business tycoon who moves between Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Cairo in Egypt and his villa in Montenegro, a small country in Europe's Balkan Peninsula. Cash in hand, his primary activity has been to sponsor candidates to unthrone Abbas.

Much to the disappointment of Hamas, Dahlan has showed little interest in the Palestinian municipal elections and even less in funding Hamas politicians. In part, this may be because Abbas is so unpredictable.

Dahlan is not the only one. The entire Palestinian electorate wonders if Abbas will suddenly call elections off - even at the last moment.

To convince them he means business and that campaigning should be serious, the PA president has embarked on what he calls his “Jerusalem gambit.”

Abbas knows that Israel will not allow the Palestinian Authority to place West Bank voting booths in eastern Jerusalem, which is home to 130,000 Palestinians.

His plan, then, is to declare elections for a Palestinian municipality for the eastern part of Israel’s capital. If successful, it would function in competition with the Israeli municipality under Mayor Nir Barkat. Abbas has chosen the village of Abu Dis as the seat of an eastern Jerusalem government. In fact, he has already installed a “Palestinian governor of Jerusalem.”

For Abbas, the Jerusalem maneuver presents another hazard. If he fails to get the vote out for the “Palestinian Jerusalem municipality,” he loses face.

On the other hand, however, if Israel scotches this attempt to re-divide its capital, the Palestinian leader will have a convenient pretext for calling off the West Bank municipal vote and pinning the blame on Israel.

He might be in his eighties, but Abbas is a gambler playing for high stakes. And he is still a fox.


This report is based on an article by DEBKAfile at Brian Schrauger is Editor in Chief of The Jerusalem Journal. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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