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Hamas has prevented the local vote from taking place in Gaza. It argues that any elections must wait until after a broader reconciliation deal with Abbas. The movement also says its candidates in the West Bank would risk being targeted by Israeli troops and Abbas‘ security forces. Critics contend Hamas also opposes elections in Gaza because it does not want to give its largely vanquished rivals, particularly from Fatah, a new foothold.

Elections for local councils, parliament and president are long overdue in the Palestinian territories. Local elections were last held in 2004 and 2005, and Hamas won control of several main cities at the time.

Abbas came to power in presidential elections in 2005, and Hamas defeated Fatah in parliament elections in 2006. After the political split broke wide open, following the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, the two sides failed to agree on the terms for new elections.

Elected politicians in both camps have been losing legitimacy because they overstayed their mandates. At the same time, holding general elections in just the West Bank or Gaza was not seen as an option because it would cement the split.

In calling local elections in the West Bank, Fatah hoped to renew voter support, without appearing to harden the rift with Gaza. It was also one of the few remaining options for Abbas, whose various strategies have run into brick walls.

“They are flailing in all directions,” Nathan Brown, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. “They can’t go to the international community for financial support. They can’t do (general) elections. They can’t do reconciliation. So (they say) let’s at least do municipal elections.”


Associated Press writer Dalia Nammari in Beit Sahour contributed report.