PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas Israel news photo: Flash 90

Voter apathy was the biggest statement to emerge Saturday from the first Palestinian Authority local elections to be held since 2005.

Polls opened at 7 am Saturday morning in dozens of towns in PA-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria and closed at 7 pm. About half a million people were eligible to vote – but in some 180 villages, deals were simply cut between leaders and clans. In 82 villages there were no candidates at all, a PA source said.

Only 93 towns and villages chose official councils with voters choosing from among a list of candidates who stood for election.

In Hevron, the Fatah faction headed by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas won two-thirds of the seats in the city council. But former Fatah members who went Independent won seats in Jenin, Shechem (Nablus) and even in the PA capital of Ramallah itself.

In Gaza there was no option to vote. The Hamas terrorists who had seized the region in a 2007 coup prevented polling there altogether.

As a result, a broader PA-wide parliamentary election cannot be held. It also places Abbas in a semi-permanent position as leader of the Palestinian Authority that represents PA Arabs to the world.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum claimed Saturday's vote was “meaningless” and insisted polls could only be held after the two factions successfully reconciled their differences.

Numerous parties – including international Arab leaders – have tried to accomplish that task with the cooperation of Abbas, who leads the  Ramallah-based Fatah faction. Each time an agreement is close, Hamas backs out. Usually the refusal is based on having to uphold agreements signed by previous PA governments, recognize the legitimacy and existence of the State of Israel, and refrain from terrorism – the three conditions set by the Quartet of Peacekeeping Nations (U.S., Russia, EU and U.N.) for the resumption of funding.

After years of attempts, said PA officials, they decided to go ahead and schedule elections anyway despite the Hamas ban on the polls.

"Hamas cannot have a veto on democracy,” declared PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. A  member of Fatah and the PLO representing PA Arabs at the United Nations, Erekat spent years in talks trying to end the stalemate on a final status agreement with Israel.