This city is the meeting place for the Palestinian legislative
council whose members were elected to four-year terms - and stayed
more than seven. Palestinian cities like this one have had municipal
elections - but not since 1976.
On a busy street corner, a struggling merchant says the job of
Palestinian officials is "to steal the people's money" and drive
A key facet of the Bush administration's road map for returning
to Middle East peacemaking has been a demand that the Palestinians
undertake democratic reforms.
But the road map's promise to call elections for the 3.3 million
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza has been kept on hold - a
delay for which many Palestinians blame the US as much as Israel.
Israel said earlier this week that it intended to withdraw its
forces from four cities in the West Bank, but disagreements over
negotiations, and a deterioration in the cease-fire have put those
plans on hold.
Independent of the ups and downs in the peace process, which
collapsed three years ago this September, Palestinian legislators
are working to pass an election law and are planning to hold
municipal elections in some cities in the next two months.
To many here, calling new elections is a crucial step toward
increasing the legitimacy of Palestinian leaders in the eyes of the
public, and a major step toward painting a picture of things to come
in more democratic colors.
Israel and the US have said they support elections. But many
Palestinians say they're frustrated that international backing for
the elections has grown more muted since the road map's introduction
"The Americans prevented the elections because the polls showed
that [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat will win again," says
Mohammed Hourani, a member of the Palestinian legislative council
involved in drafting a new elections law. Palestinians say they were
keen to set a date but were then put off.
"The Americans asked ... to delay it, until they finished the war
in Iraq. We have met many European politicians who said elections
are an important step in ... the development of peace, and the US
succeeded in stopping them and saying elections must occur at the
end of the first part of the road map, and to do that, Israelis must
That looks likelier now than it has in months. Palestinians say
there can be no elections until Israel pulls out of the areas of the
West Bank and Gaza Strip it reoccupied or blocked off after an
ongoing barrage of suicide attacks against Israelis last year. They
argue that road closures, incursions, and the construction of a
security wall in the West Bank are also hindering the potential to
implementation of the road map.
Israel, for its part, says that the Palestinian Authority is
still failing to fight terrorism by cracking down on Hamas and
Islamic Jihad, Muslim fundamentalist groups which, Israeli officials
say, are using the cease-fire as a time to rearm and plan new