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Abbas announces first Palestinian elections in 15 years

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published a decree on Friday announcing the dates for parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority.

Why it matters: This is the first time in 15 years that such a decree has been published. The last presidential elections took place in 2005, with Abbas winning, and the last parliamentary elections took place in 2006, with Hamas winning.

Driving the news: The parliamentary elections are scheduled for on May 22 and the Presidential elections for July 31 — though those plans could still fall through.

  • Abbas met today with the chairman of the central election committee and instructed him to make preparations for elections in the West Bank, in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and in Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem.
  • Last week, the head of Hamas' political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, told Abbas in a letter that the movement would agree to hold elections as part of a national reconciliation process.

Flashback: After Hamas won the 2006 elections, the Palestinian Authority deteriorated into a deep political crisis between Hamas and Fatah, Abbas' party.

  • The U.S. and other world powers announced they would not cooperate with Hamas until it recognized Israel, denounced terrorism and committed to previous agreements with Israel.
  • Hamas refused to adhere to those conditions and continues to reject them to this day. The U.S., U.K., EU and other Western governments still boycott Hamas, and the U.S. designates the group as a terror organization.
  • In 2007, a civil war broke out in the Gaza Strip and Hamas took over the area by force.

The big picture: Abbas’ announcement comes after numerous failed attempts at reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, and after several plans to hold elections fell through.

  • Abbas, who is 85 and in the 15th year of his four-year term, is not very popular. Recent public opinion polls indicate he could lose to a Hamas candidate.

What’s next: May 22 is four months away, and many analysts are skeptical about whether this election will actually take place.

  • One of the main stumbling blocs is East Jerusalem. If Israel doesn’t allow allow voting there, the election could be canceled.

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