(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas plans to hold legislative and presidential elections within six months, PA officials in Ramallah said Sunday.
They said the votes would be held in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and expressed hope that Hamas would not try to torpedo the balloting.
However, Hamas representatives in the Gaza Strip said the movement strongly opposed early elections. Hamas would not allow Abbas to hold early elections "to serve the interests of Israel and the US," one Hamas official said.
"There is no need for early elections," a top Hamas official in Gaza City said. "The next legislative elections are scheduled to be held in two years. Besides, we are certain that Abbas and Fatah will forge the results of the elections, especially in the West Bank."
Abbas told members of the PLO executive committee who met in Ramallah over the weekend that preparations were underway to hold elections within six months.
Ghassan Shaka'ah, one of the committee members, said early elections were the only way to resolve the crisis with Hamas. "The legislative and executive branches of the Palestinian Authority are in a state of paralysis," he said. "This is an intolerable situation and the time has come to go back to the people so they will be able to express their opinion through the ballot box."
Shaka'ah urged Hamas to reconsider its opposition to early elections.
"This is an opportunity for Hamas to participate in the Palestinian political process," he said. "If they want to be part of the decision-making process, they must agree to the elections. But if they decide to boycott the vote, they will exclude themselves from the process and will never be able to play any role in the political arena."
Meanwhile, Ahmed Yusef, a political adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said Sunday his movement was conducting secret talks with Fatah leaders in a bid to resolve the crisis. He said Abbas had authorized some Fatah personalities to negotiate on his behalf with Hamas.
Yusef said Abbas was facing heavy pressure from Israel and the US not to talk to Hamas. Abbas, he added, had decided to keep the talks on "low flames" to see if he could gain anything from his close relations with the Israelis and Americans.
"Abbas is making a mistake by betting on the Americans and Israelis," Yusef said. "He will never get any concessions from Israel. He's wasting his time if he thinks that the US administration, which is in its final months, will do anything good for the Palestinians."
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a top Fatah official and an aide to Abbas, vehemently denied that his faction was holding secret talks with Hamas.
"Our position remains very clear," he said. "There will be no negotiations with those who staged the coup in the Gaza Strip. These statements are untrue."
Abdel Rahman said the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip was trying to extricate itself from the severe crisis it faced by spreading rumors about secret talks with Fatah and various mediation efforts.
"Hamas's coup has changed the entire political picture in Palestine," he said. "It's impossible to hold talks with Hamas. The coup must end, and the only way to solve the crisis is by holding early parliamentary and presidential elections so that the Palestinians can have their say after this bitter experience with Hamas."