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Palestinians announce first elections in 15 years on eve of Biden era

Elections could complicate President-elect Joe Biden's plans to restore aid to the Palestinians and to revive the peace process with Israel.
Image: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in July 2019. Mohamad Torokman / Reuters file

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree Friday, setting parliamentary and presidential elections for later this year in what would be the first vote of its kind since 2006, when the Islamic militant group Hamas won a landslide victory.

Elections would pose a major risk for Abbas' Fatah party and also for Hamas as both faced protests in recent years over their inability to reconcile with one another, advance Palestinian aspirations for statehood or meet the basic needs of those in the territories they govern.

Fatah and Hamas have been publicly calling for elections for more than a decade but have never been able to mend their rift or agree on a process for holding them, and despite Friday's decree, it remained far from clear whether the voting would actually be held.

Elections could also complicate President-elect Joe Biden's plans to restore aid to the Palestinians and to revive the peace process with Israel.

The 2006 election victory by Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel and Western countries, led to heavy international pressure being placed on the Palestinian Authority. Clashes between Fatah and Hamas raged for more than a year, culminating in Hamas' 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip, where it still reigns despite an Israeli-Egyptian blockade and three wars with Israel.

The decree sets a timeline in which legislative elections would be held on May 22, followed by presidential elections on July 31, the first since Abbas was elected to a four-year term in 2005.

Elections for the National Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents the Palestinian cause internationally, would be held Aug. 31.

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Abbas handed the decree to Hanna Nasir, the head of the Central Election Commission.

Hamas welcomed the announcement.

"We have worked in the past months to resolve all obstacles so that we can reach this day," a Hamas statement said.

It called for fair elections, in which "electorates can express their will without restrictions or pressures, and with full justice and transparency."