A Dec. 23 article inaccurately described Palestinian predictions about when now-postponed elections could take place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian officials said a vote could take place 100 days after Israeli troops withdrew to positions as of September 2000, when the current Palestinian uprising broke out. Since then, Israeli forces have expanded their occupation back into the West Bank's major towns and tightened controls over movement of Palestinians among their communities. (Published 12/24/02)
The Palestinian cabinet today canceled presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for next month, saying that Israel's continuing military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip made it logistically and politically impossible to hold free and unimpeded balloting.
Cabinet ministers said after a meeting that the vote, scheduled for Jan. 20, was postponed indefinitely. They said elections could be rescheduled to take place 100 days after Israeli troops withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which they reoccupied about six months ago.
Israeli security officials, citing the continuing threat of suicide attacks on civilians and assaults against Israeli settlers and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza, have said they have no intention of removing the tens of thousands of troops stationed in and around most Palestinian cities and towns. The soldiers and the intelligence operations they run, Israeli security officials say, are vitally important to preventing attacks on Israelis.
The Palestinian information minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said that "it will be impossible to hold elections as long as the Israeli army keeps occupying the Palestinian territories."
Palestinian elections, and the selection of different Palestinian leaders, are a central demand of U.S. and Israeli officials, who say the current Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat is tainted by its alleged ties to terrorism.
For President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, replacing Arafat has become a prerequisite to reopening peace talks. Bush said in a speech in June that Palestinians needed "a new and different Palestinian leadership not compromised by terror."
Palestinians, who also complain about Arafat's leadership and corruption in the Palestinian Authority, have long demanded new elections. Bowing to international and domestic pressures, Arafat scheduled balloting for Jan. 20.
But as Palestinians began planning for the voting, it became increasingly clear to Israeli and U.S. officials that Arafat would easily win reelection and that radical Palestinian groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, would probably run strongly in parliamentary balloting, too.
Recognizing this, U.S. and Israeli officials began arguing that Palestinians should implement political reforms before the elections. The reforms were understood to be measures that would remove Arafat from day-to-day operational control of the Palestinian Authority.
But as election planning commenced, many complications arose. Palestinian attacks on Israelis continued, giving Sharon an incentive to keep troops in place and making it nearly impossible for the Palestinians to organize elections.
As a looming war with Iraq has consumed U.S. attention, the push for Palestinian reforms and peace in the Middle East has flagged. And in October, the Israeli government collapsed, leading to elections for Israel's parliament on Jan. 28.
Political analysts and Palestinian officials had said for several months that, under the circumstances, elections in January were unlikely.