What can be expected from these elections?
Certainly, neither a democratic transition nor a reformation of the Palestinian political system. At best, it could result in a "nominal democracy", but the underpinning structures of repression and authoritarianism are well-rooted, and cannot be changed by a partial voting that will be very far from being free or fair, and here I am not talking about the transparency element of the election act, but rather about ability to campaign freely and compete fairly.
It is also really crucial to acknowledge that any "democratic moment" (like the election in this case) cannot and should not be conflated with "democratic processes" or "democratic environment". Any democratic practice cannot be really democratic within an overall authoritarian and repressive setting. Celebrating the trappings of "democracy" is very different than celebrating "real democracy". It is like celebrating the trappings of statehood in the absence of state and sovereignty, which is a practice that the Palestinian political leadership is used to, and my fear is that this conflation could easily slip to the election domain.
But assuming that the legislative elections do take place as envisaged in May, we should not simply assume that the presidential election will take place in July. It is anything but a linear process, simply because it might well be the case that the occurrence of the presidential election is largely dependent on the results of the legislative elections. If and when these elections take place, only Palestinians living in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip can (have the right to) vote in these elections.
But even the participation of Palestinians in East Jerusalem is not guaranteed as it requires an explicit Israeli approval (and it is in this domain that the European actors are trying to practice pressure on Israel to allow this to happen). If it all happens as planned, it would still miss half of the Palestinian people who are longing for the presence of legitimate, representative, and accountable institutions.
Will Palestinians outside the occupied territories participate?
These Palestinians can only vote in the election for the PLO bodies such as the Palestinian National Council (PNC) which is - theoretically - the parliament of the Palestinian people. Although Abbas’ announcement determined the end of August 2021 as a date for the PNC election to take place - wherever possible -, it would be a mistake to think or believe that this was a genuine call for PLO/PNC elections. Conducting such elections, even only wherever is possible, requires some serious preparations at the political and logistical level, and there simply isn’t enough time, resources or even political will to ensure that this will happen. All political parties are well aware of this reality, but they all decided to turn a blind eye concerning this crucial matter under the pretext that "any election is better than nothing". At best, we could see a replication of the 2018 scenario when the PNC convened in Ramallah to choose the executive committee of the PLO which was a painful reminder of how Palestinian democracy is being undermined by Palestinian leaders.