Abbas Ponders Call For Early Elections
Sunday, December 10, 2006
JERUSALEM, Dec. 9 -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is inclined to call early elections, including for his own office, to end the political and economic crisis in the territories, Palestinian officials said Saturday.
The officials spoke after a meeting of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization that presented him with 17 options to end the months-long stalemate with the governing Hamas movement, whose leaders immediately rejected the proposed early elections. Abbas heads the influential panel, which is dominated by his Fatah party.
The proposals also included one to continue talks with Hamas over the formation of a power-sharing government acceptable to international donors, who cut aid to the Palestinian Authority following the radical Islamic movement's victory nearly 11 months ago in parliamentary elections.
Hamas, whose leaders reiterated as recently as this week their vow never to recognize Israel's right to exist, is classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel. Hamas is not a member of the PLO, which is recognized by Israel as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
Abbas, a relative moderate, is expected to give a national address next week on how he intends to end the crisis that has battered the economy and increased partisan strife in the territories. He is under pressure from his own party to move decisively at a time when talks over a unity government have foundered again.
"After hearing all of the options, the president is leaning toward going back to the people with early elections for the presidency and parliament," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator and a member of the PLO's executive committee, who attended the meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Erekat said Abbas dismissed the option that he continue talks with Hamas, which ended Fatah's long monopoly on political power with its January election victory and has day-to-day control of the Palestinian government.
"He said, 'That's it, there will be no more talking,' " Erekat said.
Calling for early elections would mark an uncharacteristically bold gesture by Abbas, a cautious veteran of the Palestinian national movement who has long favored consensus over confrontation, even in his dealings with Israel.
For months, he has declined to exercise his authority to dissolve the Hamas-led cabinet, fearing that doing so would inflame partisan tensions. Both Hamas and his secular Fatah party have armed wings that have engaged in deadly clashes this year.
Elected to a four-year term in January 2005 after the death of Yasser Arafat, Abbas could sidestep legal questions over his ability to call early parliamentary elections if he also appears on the ballot. Palestinian election law is unclear on this point. But his aides say the president is allowed to dissolve parliament if he also submits to the vote, which polls show would not necessarily favor his party.
"The only exit from this crisis is a national unity government," said Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official in Gaza, adding that the movement would not submit to early elections. "Any other choice will not resolve it."
After the meeting, PLO officials said Abbas intended to call early elections while making clear in his address that he will continue talking with Hamas about a unity government up until the day of the election. His aides said he has not set a timeline for the election.
The negotiations over a unity government have stalled in recent weeks over disagreement about the government's platform and which party would control the important interior and finance ministries.
Demonstrations over unpaid wages, common during the international donors' boycott of the Hamas-led government, continued Saturday in Gaza and the West Bank. About 2,500 policemen stormed the parliament building in Gaza City, while several dozen parents protested with their children in West Bank health clinics against the Hamas government.
Special correspondent Islam Abdelkareem in Gaza contributed to this report.