5. Palestinian elections: Worries of a Hamas victory grow
Blinken and Ashkenazi also discussed their concerns about the upcoming Palestinian elections, Israeli officials tell me.
Why it matters: Both the Biden administration and the Israeli government are concerned about a potential Hamas victory, but avoid saying so publicly so as not to be blamed for trying to sabotage the vote.
Driving the news: Ashkenazi stressed that Israel wouldn't put any obstacles in the way of the May 22 elections, but raised concerns that divisions within President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party could pave the way for a Hamas win, Israeli officials tell me.
- Blinken told Ashkenazi the U.S. would not object to the elections.
Between the lines: Israeli officials say that while neither the U.S. nor Israel will actively oppose the elections, both sides would be relieved if the vote were postponed.
The state of play: There will be 36 electoral lists in the upcoming elections, with just one united list for the Islamist Hamas movement and several separate lists for the secular Fatah.
- As in the 2006 elections, infighting inside Fatah led to a rift between some of the party's most prominent officials.
- Marwan Barghouti, a popular Fatah leader who is currently in an Israeli prison, decided to support a list headed by Nasser al-Qudwa, a former foreign minister who was expelled from Fatah over his criticism of Abbas.
- Mohammed Dahlan, the former leader of Fatah in Gaza, will support a separate list of ex-Fatah activists.
Behind the scenes: The Blinken-Ashkenazi call was the first high-level discussion between Israel and the U.S. about the Palestinian elections, but it was a relatively short part of the conversation.
- Israeli officials tell me they are concerned that the election, and Israel-Palestinian issues in general, is a low priority for the Biden administration.
What they're saying: The State Department's public line on the Palestinian elections appears to be a holdover from previous administrations.
- “The exercise of democratic elections is a matter for the Palestinian people to determine," a State Department official told me, adding that it's important for participants in the democratic process to accept previous agreements, renounce violence and terrorism, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.
- Worth noting: This is the third time I have received the exact same response from the State Department about the Palestinian elections.
What’s next: A key question is whether Israel will allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote. Israeli officials note that they agreed to do so in 2006, hinting it won't be an obstacle.
- Abbas’ aides have been publicly raising this issue in recent days, which could signal they might use it as a pretext for postponing the elections.