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NPR has learned that the Palestinian Authority will hold municipal elections this summer but without the participation of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, has refused to allow elections to take place in the coastal enclave until a reconciliation agreement is signed between Hamas and its rival Fatah, which dominates in the West Bank.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was in the West Bank city of Ramallah today and filed this report.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's another sign, as if one were needed, that divisions between the West Bank and Gaza are becoming more permanent. In an interview with NPR, Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib said that the decision has been taken to move ahead with municipal elections in the West Bank only.
Mr. GHASSAN KHATIB (Palestinian Authority Spokesman): In yesterday's meeting of the cabinet, the prime minister shared with the cabinet members a letter from the Central Committee of Elections saying that they are not going to be able to do elections in Gaza because Hamas is preventing their preparations. And the cabinet determined to proceed with elections in the West Bank.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Palestinian Authority has threatened several times in recent months to hold the polls without the participation of Hamas in Gaza. It was seen by many as a tactic to place pressure on the Islamist group to sign a reconciliation agreement.
Hamas won the last round of elections in 2006. But because it's considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the West, Hamas found it almost impossible to rule. It tried to form a government with rival Fatah, but open war broke out between the two factions in 2007, leading to Fatah's expulsion from Gaza. Since then, Hamas and Fatah have been holding largely fruitless negotiations to restore Palestinian unity. Khatib says, though, the Palestinian Authority has waited long enough.
Mr. KHATIB: I think that the Palestinian side and the Palestinian democracy and good governance should not be hostage to any factor like Hamas position or behavior.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The municipal vote will be held on July 17th. In an interview with NPR, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum decried the decision. He said, this type of action will enhance the division between Gaza and the West Bank, and it indicates that Fatah has no intention of reconciling. They are trying to isolate the Gaza Strip, he said, and uproot Hamas from the West Bank
Khalil Shaheen is a Palestinian political analyst who writes for Al-Ayyam newspaper, which is linked to the Palestinian Authority. He says that if municipal elections proceed without the participation of Gaza, it could prompt Hamas to hold its own unilateral elections.
Mr. KHALIL SHAHEEN (Political Analyst and Senior Editor, Al-Ayyam): Hamas would retaliate in holding elections also in Gaza Strip alone, which means that this would make the situation more complicated in trying to achieve a Palestinian internal agreement about reconciliation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The upcoming vote will determine the makeup of local councils and mayorships. Hamas won big in the West Bank in the last municipal elections, but the group says it won't run in these. And that, say some analysts, could deal a major blow to Hamas' political power in the West Bank.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.
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