Ignoring warnings by Hamas and other Palestinian groups, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday that he was determined to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on January 24.
Abbas said he had instructed Dr. Hana Naser, chairman of the Palestinian Central Elections Committee, to start preparing to hold elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
However, many Palestinian political analysts expressed doubt over whether Abbas would be able to implement his decision in light of Hamas's announcement that it would not only boycott the election, but also not allow it to take place in the Gaza Strip.
In the best-case scenario, Abbas would be able to hold the vote only in those areas in the West Bank that are under the jurisdiction of the PA or in certain areas of Jerusalem that are under Israeli sovereignty.
But even then, the vote would be meaningless, because only Abbas loyalists and members of his Fatah faction would run for office.
Ironically, Abbas's insistence on holding new elections could see Fatah suffer an even greater blow to its credibility, especially after recent public opinion polls indicating a rise in Hamas's support.
Last weekend, Abbas issued a presidential decree that called for holding presidential and parliamentary elections in January. The decision came in response to Hamas's refusal to sign an Egyptian-brokered "reconciliation" document with Fatah that would have paved the way for holding the elections sometime in the first half of 2010.
Hamas and Fatah officials both agreed that Abbas's decision to call new elections had destroyed any chance of ending the power struggle between the parties. In fact, the decision has further escalated tensions between them, triggering a war of words and mutual allegations.
Hamas leaders and spokesmen strongly condemned Abbas's move, saying he was not entitled to call new elections because his term in office had expired last January. They also made it clear that they and many Palestinians would not recognize the results of any elections held only in the West Bank.
"Mahmoud Abbas is on his way to becoming the governor of the West Bank," remarked Salah Bardaweel, a Hamas legislator in the Gaza Strip. "He has violated the Palestinian constitution twice: first when he stayed in power after the expiration of his term in office, and second when he called new elections."
Mahmoud Ramahi, a Hamas legislator from the West Bank, described Abbas's decision as "politically-motivated." He said that Abbas was acting under pressure from the US and Israel, which were planning to help him forge the results so Hamas would be removed from the political scene.
Ramahi added that the planned elections would "solidify divisions among the Palestinians by preserving the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip."
He also ruled out the possibility that Israel would allow the vote to take
place in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, as was the case in the 2006 elections.
Another Hamas legislator from the West Bank, Muhammad Abu Juhaisheh, accused Abbas of committing a "crime against democracy" by calling for elections. He said the vote would be held under "unhealthy conditions," where Hamas supporters were being repressed and intimidated by Abbas's security forces in the West Bank.
Abbas, he said, was planning to hold a vote only in the West Bank, where his supporters would run uncontested. Abu Juhaisheh noted that Hamas and most Palestinian factions had already announced their intention to stay away from the ballot boxes.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official who also serves as an unofficial spokesman for Abbas, warned Hamas against preventing Palestinians in Gaza from participating in the elections.
"The Gaza Strip belongs to its people and not to the Hamas gang," he said. "The people alone will decide whether to take part."
Abed Rabbo and other top Abbas advisers claimed on Monday that Hamas's refusal to sign the "reconciliation" document had come at the behest of Iran and Syria.