(photo credit: AP [file])
Facing increased pressure from Hamas and other Palestinian groups, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday agreed to postpone his threat to hold a referendum on a controversial document drafted by some Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Representatives of the two factions will meet in Gaza at the home of the Egyptian ambassador to the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas was originally scheduled to issue a presidential decree on Tuesday morning for holding the referendum after a 10-day ultimatum he had issued to Hamas expired on Monday night.
While Hamas leaders welcomed Abbas's decision to postpone the announcement of the referendum and said they were prepared to continue discussions with Abbas and his Fatah party over the document, tensions remained high. However, they said they would not change their position regarding the document.
Abbas's decision to delay the announcement came after a 70-minute phone conversation he had with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Monday night, sources in his office told The Jerusalem Post. According to the sources, Haniyeh urged Abbas to refrain from announcing the referendum for fear that such a move under the current circumstances would escalate tensions between Hamas and Fatah.
The sources said Egypt, Yemen and other Arab countries had also appealed to Abbas to delay his announcement to avoid a major confrontation with Hamas.
Abbas, who chaired an urgent meting of the PLO executive committee here on Tuesday morning, told participants that he would wait another three days before announcing the referendum. He expressed hope that Hamas would reconsider its position and support the document, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
"The talks with Hamas will continue until the last minute," PLO executive committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo declared after the meeting. "At the same time, preparations for holding the referendum will continue. If we don't reach an agreement, then we will call a referendum on the prisoners' document and he Palestinians will only gain from this."
Abed Rabbo said Abbas was determined to hold the referendum if Hamas continues to oppose the document. "President Abbas will make an announcement about the referendum by this weekend," he said. "The president is prepared to continue the dialogue with Hamas even after he announces the referendum."
Abed Rabbo revealed that Abbas turned down a request from Haniyeh to hold talks between the two parties for another two weeks before announcing the referendum.
"The conditions in the Palestinian territories are rapidly deteriorating and we don't have time to waste," he stressed. "Our people are facing bankruptcy and our institutions are at stake. Our case has been turned into an issue of salaries for civil servants. This will lead the world to believe Israel when it says that there is no Palestinian partner."
The PLO executive committee expressed its full support for Abbas in his dispute with Hamas and criticized the Islamic movement for rejecting the document. "We fully support President Abbas's call for a national referendum," said a statement issued by the committee. "The referendum is needed to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and end the political boycott, starvation and financial sanctions against our people."
Fahmi Za'arir, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, lashed out at Hamas for its continued incitement against the prisoners' document. "They claim that the document includes too many concessions and recognizes Israel," he said. "Who are they to question the credentials of the prisoners? Hamas does not have a monopoly over decision-making in Palestine."
Hamas leader Adnan Asfour hailed Abbas's decision to extend the ultimatum, expressing hope that the move would ease tensions between Hamas and Fatah. "This is an achievement for rationality and logic," he said. "We thank Abbas for his decision and urge all parties to exploit the coming days to end the tensions."
Asfour, however, reiterated Hamas's strong opposition to the idea of holding a referendum, saying this would be seen as an attempt to bypass the democratically elected government of Hamas. "The referendum, if it takes place, would be illegal and unconstitutional," he added. "The Basic Law does not authorize Abbas to hold such a referendum, which would lead to civil war."
Meanwhile, Fatah accused Hamas of standing behind Tuesday morning's rocket attack on the headquarters of the Preventative Security Service in Gaza City. Five security officers were injured when unidentified gunmen fired several rockets at the compound in the first attack of its kind.
Fatah spokesman Tawfik Abu Khoussa pointed out that Hamas had been waging a campaign of incitement against the Preventative Security Service in recent months. "They claim that all the members of this force are collaborators, traitors and infidels," he said. "This is a murderous attack that follows a series of attacks on the homes and cars of senior officers.
"A top Hamas leader recently issued a fatwa [religious decree] according to which anyone who kills a high ranking officer of the Preventative Security Service will be rewarded by Allah," he said.