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05TELAVIV3205 2005-05-26 16:04:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tel Aviv
Cable title:  

COURT RULING FAVORS FATAH IN GAZA ELECTION DISPUTE

Tags:   PREL PGOV KWBG GZ IS GAZA DISENGAGEMENT ISRAELI PALESTINIAN AFFAIRS 
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1. (C) Summary: In response to Fatah allegations of Hamas
fraud, a PA appeals court in Khan Yunis invalidated in
rulings May 18 and 20 results from the May 5 municipal
elections affecting some 46,000 voters in Rafah, al-Bureij,
and Bayt Lahiya, and ordered new elections in the affected
polling stations. The Higher Committee for Local Elections
(HCLE) announced that the new polling would take place on
June 1. In a preliminary assessment, an international
observer from NDI found the appeals process to be sound, but
noted that the basis on which many of the results were
annulled -- the use of the flawed civil registry -- seemed
dubious, since the law allows use of this registry and it was
in fact employed in all municipalities, and not only those
where Fatah had lost and subsequently lodged appeals.
Muhammad al-Zahar, the most visible Hamas leader in Gaza,
accused Fatah of influencing the court to decide in Fatah's
favor and threatened that Hamas would boycott the new voting.
Subsequent statements by other Hamas members lead most
observers to believe that Hamas will nonetheless participate
in the re-runs. A leading Fatah official in Gaza, Abdullah
Efrangi, told Poloff that he ascribed the mortar barrages
raining down on Gaza settlements May 19-21 to two motives: to
Hamas anger at Fatah's successful legal challenge to what he
termed "widespread fraud," and an attempt to disrupt the
Washington visit of PA President Mahmud Abbas. Hamas
officials told the press, however, that the attacks were in
direct response to "Israeli aggression" that led to the
deaths of two Hamas militants May 18-19. Although few
observers expect the re-run to yield significantly different
polling results in either Rafah or al-Bureij, control of Bayt
Lahiya, where Hamas reportedly holds a majority by one seat,
could shift to Fatah. End Summary.



--------------------------



--------------------------


PA Courts Annul Election Results in Three Gaza Towns


--------------------------



--------------------------





2. (SBU) Following the May 5 municipal elections in eight
Gaza Strip locales, Fatah petitioned the Election Appeals
Court in Khan Yunis to invalidate results in Rafah, Bayt
Lahiya, al-Bureij, and al-Mughragha, in all of which races
Hamas won majorities of municipal council seats. Fatah
charged that Hamas supporters had manipulated the civil
registry lists -- used to supplement the voter registration
lists developed by the Central Election Committee (CEC) for
the January presidential elections -- and rigged the vote
counting in a number of polling stations in favor of Hamas.
The court upheld Fatah's charges and annulled results from a
number of Rafah polling stations on May 18, and annulled
results from al-Bureij and Bayt Lahiya on May 20. The court
found that the challenge in al-Mughragha was unfounded and
upheld the election results there. Some 20 other appeals
contesting Fatah losses in the West Bank were also largely
dismissed by the courts.



3. (SBU) According to a local observer of the court
proceedings interviewed by a USAID staff member, the court
determined that the Higher Committee for Local Elections
(HCLE) had behaved in a manner "biased towards one party" and
"did not administer elections in a fair manner." Fatah
Central Committee member and Head of Fatah's Office of
Mobilization and Organization in the Gaza Strip Abdullah
Efrangi claimed that these decisions will affect some 29,000
voters in Rafah, 15,000 voters (almost half of the
electorate) in al-Bureij, and some 2,600 voters in Bayt
Lahiya. The HCLE met May 23 and announced that re-runs of
elections in the affected polling stations will be held on
June 1.



--------------------------


The Charges


--------------------------





4. (C) An NDI election observer present when the Rafah
decision was handed down May 18 reported that the court
decision in Rafah was based, at least in part, on the fact
that the HCLE managed to verify the right of some 600-1,000
individuals to vote at civil registry stations only at 1830
hours on election day, when most of those affected had
already given up and gone home. While the full, detailed
account of the court decision has not been made public, he
said, the crux of the complaints were problems with the civil
registry voting lists. Anecdotally, observers and voters
alike noted the presence in some polling stations of what
have been termed the "burkha brigades," or large numbers of
veiled women who were reportedly allowed to vote (some claim
multiple times) without removing their veils to allow
confirmation of their identities.



5. (C) Fatah also charged that, in some instances, such as
in Rafah, the majority of the HCLE members were at least
sympathetic to Hamas, and invalidated ballots for no reason
other than they were for Fatah. (Note: A large number of
electoral workers are drawn from the Ministry of Education,
which, in many areas of Gaza is dominated by Hamas members
and supporters. End Note). The appeal also charged that
votes had been cast in the names of people known to be
deceased, abroad or in prison, although there is no
indication from the summary court decision released to date
of how widespread these activities may have been. Election
day observers, including those from NDI, did not, however,
indicate large-scale problems that would have invalidated the
election results. Efrangi said he had instructed Fatah's
legal team to prepare a detailed account of the alleged
fraudulent activities that would be released soon.



--------------------------


Court Decisions Appear to Be Sound, But...


--------------------------





6. (C) The same NDI observer said in a preliminary
assessment that the appeal process itself appeared to be
sound. Palestinian lawyer Ahmad Mughanni, representing Fatah
before the appellate court, reported that the court had
listened to 27 witnesses over three days before deciding the
case. The case is weakened, however, by the fact that the
Palestinian Legislative Council approved use of the civil
registry to supplement voter registration lists compiled by
the CEC in order to ensure the widest possible
enfranchisement -- despite the fact that the civil registry
is known to contain outdated information. This, at least in
theory, calls into question election results elsewhere, a
point made in a statement by the Palestinian Center for Human
Rights. The courts ruled, however, only on the specific
complaints brought before them, all of which were brought by
Fatah and all of which were in municipalities where Fatah had
not won majorities. A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu
Zuhri, accused Fatah and the PA of pressuring the court to
annul the election results in an attempt to besmirch Hamas'
reputation, and a Hamas representative on the HCLE announced
that Hamas may boycott the election re-runs.



7. (C) After a meeting May 23 to implement the court
decision, the HCLE charged its local members in Gaza to form
new local committees and to prepare for the new elections.
NGO monitors remain concerned that the same flawed civil
registry lists will again be used to supplement the voter
registration lists, although a spokesman for Minister of
Interior Naser Yusuf announced May 23 that the Ministry would
undertake to update the civil registry by removing the names
of dead and imprisoned individuals.



--------------------------


"Hamas Is Making a Big Mistake"


--------------------------





8. (C) Efrangi told Poloff May 20 that "Hamas is making a
big mistake,... thinking the PA could do nothing," in the
face of Hamas' dirty tactics. Fatah, Efrangi continued, had
answered the Hamas fraud with the language of law. Hamas, he
said, responded in turn with the deluge of rockets and
violence directed at Gaza settlements and IDF soldiers May
19-21, which he characterized as an attempt to disrupt
President Abbas's visit to the U.S. Hamas officials claim,
however, that the violence of the past week is a response to
"Israeli aggression" that left two Hamas militants dead in
Gaza, one of whom died in the first Israeli air strike in
Gaza since the period of calm was declared.



9. (C) Efrangi said that "no trust remains" between Fatah
and Hamas, which is, he charged, trying to usurp PA authority
via fraudulent elections, while at the same time maintaining
the faction's "clean" reputation. What Fatah will not do,
Efrangi declared, is back down from its electoral challenge
in order to quiet the situation. Taking what he clearly
viewed as the high ground, Efrangi stressed that Hamas needs
to come to Fatah to resolve the issue peacefully, rather than
address it via media statements and rocket fire. Continuing
his screed against Hamas in general and Hamas leader al-Zahar
in particular, Efrangi denied that the May 19-20 Hamas attack
against Kfar Darom settlement from an unused UNRWA school
building was a joint operation including a Fatah-affiliated
al-Aqsa militant. Hamas stands alone, Efrangi said, adding
that Hamas was behind the entire operation by supporting
"independent" militant operatives in Gaza.



10. (C) Comment: Efrangi's stand and other public statements
by Fatah officials indicate that Fatah feels it has the moral
high ground with its successful resort to the courts, in
contrast to Hamas' rejection of the court decision.
International observers on election day did not report
widespread problems in Gaza, although both they -- and Hamas
-- warned before earlier rounds of elections against use of
the outdated civil registry. Although few expect the
overwhelming majorities won by Hamas in Rafah and al-Bureij
to change significantly, Bayt Lahiya is a closer race that
may shift control of the council into Fatah hands. The
HCLE's decision to re-form the local commissions to supervise
the new polling is a welcome improvement to the process, as
it addresses the inadvertent domination of these bodies by
Hamas supporters through over-reliance on Ministry of
Education officials.

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