WASHINGTON, July 15—A presidential election in Palestine will not take place until both Fatah and Hamas reach consensus—and Israel permits it—resulting in a deadlock with no clear path toward political reconciliation. In a new question and answer guide, Nathan Brown offers an analysis of Palestinian law and the core disagreements between the Palestinian factions that cast new doubt on President Mahmud Abbas’s political future.

Hamas insists Abbas’s term expires in 2009, while Fatah points to 2010. While Abbas was elected in 2005 and the Palestinian Basic Law sets a four-year term for the presidency, parliament passed an election law in 2005 that calls for the parliament and president to be elected together. Parliament’s four-year term expires in 2010.

Key Conclusions:

  • Elections cannot be held unless Palestinian government agencies cooperate. Hamas controls certain agencies in the Gaza Strip while Fatah controls them in the West Bank. 
  • Parliament is unlikely to pass legislation to clarify the issue. Hamas has a clear majority, but cannot muster a quorum as Israel holds many of its deputies. If parliament does pass legislation, Hamas lacks the votes to override the likely presidential veto.
  • There is little hope for judicial intervention in the dispute. The law creating a constitutional court itself remains in legal limbo, while Hamas will not accept a ruling from the High Court as legitimate.
  • Israeli attitudes towards Hamas’s participation in elections has hardened over the last two years. Holding elections without Israeli cooperation is difficult as they control east Jerusalem as well as some areas of the West Bank.
  • Hamas and Fatah argue different interpretations of what will happen when Abbas’s term expires. Hamas argues that the presidency passes on an interim basis to the parliamentary speaker, while Fatah holds that Abbas retains control until new elections are held. 




  • Nathan J. Brown is director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington University, a nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, and a distinguished scholar and author of four well-received books on Arab politics.
  • The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, socio-political, and strategic interests in the Arab world. Through detailed country studies and the exploration of key cross-cutting themes, the Carnegie Middle East Program, in coordination with the Carnegie Middle East Center, provides analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region. The Carnegie Middle East Program has special expertise in political reform and Islamist participation in pluralistic politics throughout the region.
  • The Carnegie Middle East Center is a public policy think tank and research center based in Beirut, Lebanon. Bringing together senior researchers from the region, the Carnegie Middle East Center aims to better inform the process of political change in the Middle East and deepen understanding of the issues the region and its people face.
  • The Arab Reform Bulletin addresses political reform in the Middle East. Sent monthly, it offers analysis from U.S.-based and Middle Eastern political experts in English and Arabic, as well as news synopses and resource guides.