JERUSALEM, Israel – The Palestinian Authority says it will hold elections in the "West Bank" (Judea and Samaria) in May, without participation by residents of the Gaza Strip.
The decision, reached Tuesday at the P.A.'s weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah, follows an announcement last month by Hamas, Fatah's rival Palestinian faction in the Gaza Strip, backed by Islamic Jihad, rejecting elections until the two factions reconcile.
Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif al-Qanu said the decision "entrenches political divisions and asserts Fatah's supremacy in decision-making," the P.A.'s official Ma'an news agency reported.
The rivalry between the two Palestinian factions began heating up after the death of PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in November 2004. A little over a year later, Hamas won a majority of seats in legislative elections in January 2006.
The two factions reconciled following a Saudi-sponsored initiative in January 2007, forming a unity government in March, based on the Mecca Accords.
Three months later, Abbas dissolved the unity government following a bloody military coup in the Gaza Strip that left Hamas in control.
In 2008, Hamas said it would not recognize Abbas' presidency once his term expired on January 9, 2009. Since then, efforts to reconcile the two sides failed again and again.
Egyptian-mediated talks produced another short-lived reconciliation in 2011, followed by another in 2012. Even Yemen got in on the act, but the rivalry has never been resolved.
Last month, Hamas announced the appointment of Yahya Sinwar to replace outgoing Gaza chief Ismail Haniyeh. Sinwar gained his freedom in the 2011 prisoner exchange after serving 22 years of four life terms for murder. Since his release, he climbed to the top of the Hamas hierarchy.
Born and raised in the Gaza Strip, Sinwar is the founding member of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas "military wing."
He is thought to have been behind the assassination of a senior Hamas battalion leader last year in Gaza and is considered a destabilizing force in the region. Like his predecessor, he is committed to eradicating Israel and establishing a Palestinian state in its place.
If the P.A. manages to hold long-overdue elections in May, it will in all likelihood not bring reconciliation with Hamas nor further a negotiated settlement with Israel.