Palestinians Register to Vote — Just in Case

GAZA (Reuters) -

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Yehudah and Shomron started registering on Monday to vote in a long-delayed election that is aimed at healing nearly six years of bitter rifts between Hamas and Fatah.

However, with no date yet set for either the overdue legislative or presidential ballot and with the main political blocs still bickering over their reconciliation drive, the chances of achieving unity looked as elusive as ever.

Hundreds of Palestinians lined up at registration centers to make sure their names were on the lists in case any ballot materialized, although many were openly skeptical about the possibility of a rapid breakthrough.

The latest reconciliation meetings in Cairo at the weekend went badly, officials said, with no agreement on the formation of a unity government or on a revision of the Palestine Liberation Organization — the Palestinians’ highest decision-making body.

“The Cairo talks did not achieve the breakthrough that we had hoped for, but they did not collapse,” Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s Gaza prime minister, said in a statement after he met the CEC chairman, Hanna Naser.

The CEC says its registration drive is aimed at allowing an estimated 700,000 Palestinians to enroll, adding their names to some 1.5 million people already listed. The process is due to be completed by Feb. 18 and, in theory, an election could then be called three months later.

Worried about their growing democracy deficit, Palestinians staged local elections in Yehudah and Shomron last year. These were boycotted by Hamas, which complains that its supporters are routinely rounded up and imprisoned by Fatah forces.

Both sides blamed the other for lack of progress in the recent Cairo talks.

“The two sides were not ready to make the necessary concessions and meet in the middle of the road. They are still afraid of the concept of power sharing,” said Gaza political analyst, Talal Okal.

Bassam Al-Zbaidi, a political analyst, said that while voter registration was a procedural matter, the differences over security issues between the two factions could not be easily overcome.

“Reconciliation is very far away,” he said.