Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is considering dissolving the PA and declaring the failure of the peace process with Israel, PA officials in Ramallah said over the weekend.
Abbas was now waiting to see if the US and other parties would exert enough pressure on Israel to stop settlement construction and recognize the two-state solution before he makes any decision, the officials said.
In his televised speech on Thursday, in which he announced that he has "no desire" to run in the upcoming presidential election, Abbas said that he would also consider taking "other measures" in the future, but did not elaborate.
He was "threatening" to dissolve the PA in protest against Washington's failure to support his demand for a complete freeze of settlement construction as a precondition for the resumption of peace negotiations with Israel, the officials said.
Over the weekend, Abbas instructed the Palestinian Central Elections Committee to continue preparations for holding presidential and parliamentary elections on January 24.
He met in Ramallah with the heads of the committee, Hanna Naser and Rami Hamdallah, and instructed them to take all measures to ensure that the vote is held on time in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, according to a statement released by Abbas's office.
His decision to go ahead with plans to hold the vote came despite his announcement on Thursday that he has "no desire" to run in the election.
It remains unclear, however, how the vote would take place in the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas government has already announced that it won't allow the balloting to take place. Moreover, it's not certain that Israel would permit the vote to take place inside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.
Abbas has come under pressure from some world leaders and his loyalists to withdraw his decision to drop out of the race, his aides said. "In light of the growing pressure," Abbas may have to reconsider his decision, they said.
Abbas's supporters have, meanwhile, begun organizing demonstrations and petitions calling on him to rescind his decision.
In various parts of the West Bank, Abbas loyalists marched in the streets in support of the PA president. Others published advertisements in PA-controlled newspapers declaring their support for Abbas and urging him to seek reelection.
Most of the demonstrators were Fatah members and policemen serving in the PA security forces. Some of those who published the pro-Abbas advertisements said they had been asked by senior PA officials to do so.
Some Fatah operatives in the West Bank said that Abbas would change his mind only if he felt that he had enough support from the US and the Arab world.
"The president is waiting to see how much support he has before he makes any decision," said a Fatah official closely associated with Abbas. "If he does not feel that he has enough backing, he might even step down and announce the dismantlement of the Palestinian Authority."
Another Fatah official said that Abbas's decision not to run for another term was primarily aimed at sending a message to the Americans and Arabs.
"Abbas is trying to tell the US administration that its bias in favor of Israel is sabotaging the peace process," the official told The Jerusalem Post
. "He's particularly upset with [US Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton, because he feels that she's the one who convinced President Barack Obama to soften his attitude on the issue of settlements."
Abbas, according to one of his top aides, is also "deeply disappointed" with the Egyptians, who seem to have endorsed the Israeli and American standpoint according to which the Palestinians should return to the negotiating tables unconditionally.
Abbas, he added, was "shocked" when he heard that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, had agreed with Clinton that the peace negotiations should be resumed without preconditions.
Abbas was quoted by the aide as having accused the Egyptians of "failing to keep their promise to support his demand that Israel halt all construction in the settlements as a prerequisite for the resumption of the negotiations.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official who also serves as an adviser to Abbas, said that he and his colleagues were working hard to persuade the PA president to participate in the elections.
Ahmed said that there was a consensus in Fatah that Abbas was the most suitable candidate to run in the presidential election, "because he enjoys the backing of the Palestinian people."
He said that Fatah leaders were scheduled to hold a series of meetings in Ramallah this week to discuss the repercussions of Abbas's move.
Hafez Barghouti, editor of the PA mouthpiece Al-Hayat Al-Jadida
, said that any other leader in Abbas's place would have resigned a long time ago.
"The president's decision should not be seen as an escape from national responsibilities," Barghouti explained. "Instead, it's the product of the absence of an international will to find a peaceful and just settlement after 16 years of negotiations, blood and tears."
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to Abbas, urged the international community to take Abbas's latest decision seriously.
"We hope that the president's message has arrived to all the international and concerned parties," he said. "We hope that they will take this message seriously to salvage the peace process in the region."
Meanwhile, UAL MK Ahmed Tibi said Sunday that the PA president had told him in advance of his decision.
"I knew from Abbas himself, I was with him when he formulated his speech, and I was familiar with the content of the announcement [in advance]," he told Army Radio. "There was a limited number of people who knew, and I was one of them."
Tibi said he knew first hand about Abbas's recent discontent, especially after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech hailing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's settlement policy. At the end of October, Clinton said she approved of Netanyahu's decision to issue a moratorium on new construction permits, calling it "unprecedented in the context of prior to negotiations."
Although conceding that he was uncertain if elections would be held in the near future anyway, due to inter-Palestinian divisions, the Arab Israeli MK brushed aside suggestions that Abbas was bluffing just to put pressure on the US and Israel.
He said the PA president was "serious in his words, frustration and anger."
Tibi claimed that when Abbas asked the Americans why they seemingly changed their demands on Israel concerning settlement activity, they had cited Netanyahu's fear of his coalition government falling apart.
"That's outrageous," said Tibi.