PFLP suspends participation in elections amid growing anger against the PA
The Popular Front for The Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) announced on Monday that it was suspending its participation in local Palestinian elections scheduled for May, in protest of Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces’ violent repression of demonstrations in the occupied West Bank a day earlier.
PFLP politburo member and Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) MP Khalida Jarrar said that the left-wing party had decided to suspend its participation in the municipal elections planned for May 13, to denounce the “suppressive” measures used by PA police against family members and supporters of Basel al-Araj, a Palestinian activist who was killed by Israeli forces earlier this month.
Jarrar said that the PFLP would only reconsider the possibility of engaging in the electoral process if all PA officers involved in assaulting protesters were held accountable.
She added that the PFLP would take unspecified “political steps” against the PA’s “suppression and political coordination.”
Growing discontent with the PA
The case of al-Araj -- who was killed by Israeli forces on March 6 five months after having been released from PA custody -- has sparked anger among Palestinians over the PA’s security coordination with Israel, which has been widely interpreted as the reason why al-Araj was detained by Palestinian security forces for nearly six months before any charges were leveled against him.
The Palestinian government attracted more furor after the Ramallah magistrate's court announced that five Palestinian activists who were detained by the PA alongside al-Araj would still be tried for allegedly possessing weapons and planning an attack on Israel, despite the fact that four of the men have been detained by Israel since being released by the PA.
Palestinian news outlet al-Quds Network reported on Sunday that the court had decided to postpone the trial to April 30, with the judge reportedly saying that Muhammad Harb, Haitham Siyaj, Muhammad al-Salamin, and Seif al-Idrissi “might be out of Israeli prisons” by that date.
The fifth activist, Ali Dar al-Sheikh, who was not detained by Israel, was reportedly present in court on Sunday, which could not be independently confirmed by Ma'an. Meanwhile, the judge only dropped the charges against al-Araj after his death certificate was presented to the court, according to al-Quds.
At least 11 protesters were injured by Palestinian police in Ramallah while denouncing the trial on Sunday, as police assaulted al-Araj’s father, activists, and journalists who were prevented from covering the event.
Later on Sunday, police suppressed a similar protest in Duheisha refugee camp in the Bethlehem district, with locals reporting that police forces were firing live bullets in the direction of demonstrators.
On Monday, PA police spokesman Adnan al-Dmeiri denied reports that the Ramallah police chief had resigned over the violent suppression of Sunday’s protest in the West Bank city.
Al-Dmeiri had accused “mercenaries” and “foreign agents” of being behind the demonstrations and subsequent clashes, which he called “cheap incitement" -- echoing phrasing used by Israel against Palestinians opposing the occupation.
Palestinian security forces have regularly been accused of using excessive violence, intimidation, and detention to quash opposition to the Palestinian Authority.
The PA has also been criticized for its "revolving door policy" funneling Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons as part of “escalating security collaboration” with Israeli authorities.
Contested municipal elections
Meanwhile, the PFLP’s announcement that it would withdraw from the upcoming local elections struck another blow to an already contested electoral process.
After the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) announced at the end of January that local elections would be scheduled in both the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas -- the de facto ruling party in Gaza -- and the Islamic Jihad movement promptly rejected the plan, saying that elections should only take place after the more than decade-long rivalry between Hamas and Fatah came to an end and reconciliation was achieved.
Late last month, the PA decided to hold local elections in the occupied West Bank in May as scheduled, while excluding Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip from taking part.
Municipal elections were initially set to be held in October 2016, but were postponed with the intent of holding them in the entire occupied Palestinian territory following backlash over a PA Supreme Court ruling to exclude the Gaza Strip from the elections altogether.
The Gaza Strip has not held municipal elections in a decade, after Hamas’ victory in the 2006 vote erupted into a violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah, as both groups attempted to take control of the besieged coastal enclave.
Despite numerous attempts at reconciling Fatah and Hamas, Palestinian leadership has repeatedly failed to follow through on promises of reconciliation and holding long-overdue elections, as both movements have frequently blamed each other for numerous political failures.
Meanwhile, the PFLP, which is active in both Gaza and the West Bank, has also regularly criticized the PA for both its internal and diplomatic policies.