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Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Monday hinted for the first time that the parliamentary elections, scheduled for January 25, could be postponed.
Abbas had until now fiercely resisted pressure from many Palestinians to delay the vote because of the growing state of lawlessness and anarchy in PA-controlled areas.
In the past 48 hours, a number of top PA officials told The Jerusalem Post that Abbas was "inclined" to delay the elections because of his fear that Hamas might win a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The officials admitted that Abbas was more concerned about the growing anarchy and the ongoing power struggle in his ruling Fatah party than the controversy over the participation of the Arab residents of Jerusalem in the elections.
"President Abbas knows very well that Fatah could lose the elections because of the power struggle between the young guard and the old guard," said one official. "Moreover, many Palestinians are fed up with the Palestinian Authority's failure to impose law and order."
Speaking to reporters shortly after arriving in Qatar, Abbas said that the elections would be delayed if Israel did not allow Arab residents of Jerusalem to take part.
"We all agree that Jerusalem should be included in the elections," Abbas said. "If it is not included, all the factions agree there should be no elections."
Abbas's threat came despite the fact that Israel has not yet formally announced its position regarding the participation of Jerusalem's Arabs in the elections. It also coincided with the beginning of the election campaign, with 11 lists planning to contest the vote.
Veteran Fatah leaders, including Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, Deputy Prime Minister Nabil Shaath, and other members of the Fatah central committee, a body dominated by old guard representatives, have stepped up their pressure on Abbas to postpone the elections.
Citing the anarchy and violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Fatah officials sent a letter to Abbas urging him to reconsider his decision to hold the elections later this month.
Abbas Zaki, member of the Fatah central committee, said the internal violence "posed a serious threat to the democratic process." He also warned against excluding Jerusalem from the vote.
Another senior Fatah member said: "Abu Mazen [Abbas] is fooling himself if he thinks that he can hold the elections at a time when his police officers are afraid to direct the traffic on the streets of Gaza City."
Shaath said that Fatah officials who met recently with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip called on them to agree to a delay because of the upsurge in violence, especially in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian sources in Ramallah said the Fatah officials proposed forming a "national emergency cabinet" together with Hamas in return for the Islamic movement's agreement to call off the elections. According to the sources, Hamas rejected the offer, insisting that the elections be held on time.
Abbas reportedly met in Qatar with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and discussed with him the possibility of delaying the elections for six months.
Sources close to Abbas attacked the veteran Fatah leaders who are calling for the postponement of the elections. The sources said the initiative was tantamount to staging a coup against Abbas while he was abroad.
Former PA minister Mohamed Dahlan expressed his opposition to postponing the elections "even if Hamas wins." He said Fatah would honor the results of the elections and welcomed Hamas's decision to participate in the vote for the first time since the establishment of the PA.
About 200 PA policemen on Tuesday occupied all government buildings in Rafah to protest against the death of one of their colleagues in an attack on a police station in Gaza City last week. Over the weekend, dozens of policemen went on the rampage at the Rafah border crossing, demanding that the PA arrest the gunmen who killed their colleague.
Gen. Ala Hosni, commander of the PA Civil Police, revealed that many policemen had defected and were now members of various armed gangs. "What's happening in the police force is a mutiny," he said.
Hosni warned against holding the parliamentary elections under the current circumstances, saying the PA security forces would not be able to fulfill their duties. "Many gunmen are planning to launch attacks on polling stations and I think we should postpone the elections," he added.