A key impediment to a two-state solution is the lack of unified Palestinian institutions and leaders endowed with the support of its people. The fractured political landscape among Palestinians raises concerns among Israelis about having a viable partner who can implement a peace agreement. The deep conflicts between Hamas and Fatah, including the territorial-political divide between the West Bank and Gaza, have been compounded by growing internal problems within the Fatah movement and the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority even in the West Bank. To clear this hurdle, the Obama administration should support efforts to find a workable formula for a Palestinian national unity government and plan for the possibility of Palestinian elections in the next 12 months.
Earlier this month, PA President Mahmoud Abbas called for Palestinian elections to be held under international and Arab supervision. Abbas said the election results should be respected, even if Hamas wins. Holding such elections will be risky and complicated, but elections may be the only way to translate improvements in security, economy, and institutional capacity into real political legitimacy for Palestinian governing institutions—the paramount strategic objective of the current efforts. While January 2010 should not be a sacred date, the elections should be held on a reasonable time frame and their results respected. These elections, however, must not be used as an excuse to delay a rapid movement towards final status negotiations. An impending election could generate a sense of urgency among Palestinian leaders that could create positive incentives to make progress in negotiations.