Israel has evolved a respect for Hamas forces and a practical preference for Hamas’ continued rule in Gaza.
The Palestinian high court has ruled that the forthcoming municipal elections can be held only in the West Bank and not the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Elections in the West Bank and Gaza were originally scheduled for October 8, but the Ramallah court last month suspended them until it could decide if Gaza should be included in the process.
The court has asked the elections committee to set a new date for the polls.
“The court orders the implementation of the government’s decision on the holding of local elections,” court president Hisham al-Hatoo ruled before a packed courtroom in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
He said, however, the judiciary in Gaza did not have necessary “guarantees” in place to hold the vote.
The ruling could bring an end to hopes that the municipal elections will be the first since the 2006 legislative elections to include both Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas’ Fatah Party, which governs the West Bank.
Palestinians have been split since Hamas seized Gaza in 2007 and repeated reconciliation attempts have failed.
“The ruling is political and aims at empowering and rooting the internal division between the two Palestinian territories,” Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said in a press release while rejecting the court’s decision.
Jehad Mashaqi, a ministry of local affairs official, said the decision “was justified in accordance with the law”.
The decision to suspend the elections came after the Fatah Party had accused Hamas of sabotage, citing the rejection of Fatah electoral lists by Gazan courts and the exclusion of East Jerusalem from the voting.
Most of the more-than-400 local councils are in the West Bank, which last held municipal elections in 2012 that were boycotted by Hamas.
The last municipal elections in the Gaza Strip were held 11 years ago.
Hamas had agreed to take part in this year’s elections, which worried some among the Fatah Party that the group could win most of the councils.
Hamas caused a shock by winning the majority of seats in the 2006 polls, but the international community refused to accept its government, demanding the group renounce violence, recognise Israel, and respect agreements signed between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
The EU and US have blacklisted Hamas as a “terrorist” organisation.