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(photo credit: AP [file])
The PLO Central Council on Wednesday approved a resolution calling on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to stay in power until new elections are held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The decision was immediately condemned by Hamas as "illegal." Salim Za'noun, chairman of the Palestine National Council, the PLO's parliament-in-exile, said that the decision to extend Abbas's term in office had been taken at the end of a two-day meeting of the PLO Central Council in Ramallah.
The council consists of scores of members of the Palestine National Council, where all Palestinian factions, with the exception of Hamas, have representation.
Za'noun said that a 20-member committee had been established by the council to draft a communiquÃ© summing up the resolutions taken by the council.
It was not clear by late Wednesday how the resolution regarding Abbas's term in office had been taken and whether any delegates had opposed it.
Muhammad Subaih, deputy chairman of the council, said that Abbas would stay in power at least until June 28, 2010, the date set by the Egyptians for holding new presidential and legislative elections in the context of a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah.
Subaih said that the Palestinian Legislative Council, whose mandate expires on January 25, 2010, will also remain in power until the same date at least.
"We can't afford a vacuum in the Palestinian political system and that's why all official institutions must continue to function," he explained. "We are passing through a critical phase where Israel has escalated its offensive against the Palestinians."
Asked what would happen if Hamas and Fatah failed to reach agreement over holding new elections by June 2010, he said, "We are awaiting Hamas's approval of the latest Egyptian initiative to achieve reconciliation with Fatah. If Hamas has any reservations about this initiative, it should bring them to the attention of the Palestinian factions and concerned parties."
Subaih added that the council was aware of the obstacles preventing the Palestinians from holding elections. He said that the main obstacle was Hamas's refusal to allow the voting to take place in the Gaza Strip, as well as uncertainty over Israel's position regarding holding the elections in east Jerusalem.
Abbas and top PA officials briefed the conference on the latest developments regarding the peace process.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official who also serves as an adviser to the PA president, said that the council also voiced support for Abbas's decision not to resume peace talks with Israel until all construction in the settlements was completely halted.
He said that the PLO council had asked Abbas to work toward paving the way for holding new elections as soon as possible.
Ahmed said that the council would meet again after three months to see if any progress had been made toward ending the Fatah-Hamas dispute.
He said that Wednesday's decision "kept the door open" for the possibility of reconciliation between the two parties. He cautioned, however, that the "door won't remain open indefinitely."
Al-Ahmed repeated allegations that Iran and Syria were meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians by supporting Hamas and encouraging it not to sign an agreement with Fatah.
With regard to the dispute over the expiration of Abbas's term in office, the Fatah official argued that although the four-year period had ended, the PA president's term in office expires only when a successor is elected and sworn in.
Hamas described the council's resolution as a "coup against the Palestinian constitution."
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the resolution as a "new ploy" to give Abbas legitimacy by making it look as if the PLO Central Council had replaced the Palestinian Legislative Council, whose members were elected in January 2006.
"This is an illegal decision and a political bribe to cover up for the fact that Abbas's term in office had expired a long time ago," he said. "Abbas's term in office expired and no one has the right to extend his mandate."
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