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The Palestinian Authority has completed "administrative preparations" for holding a referendum on the controversial document drafted by leaders of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, former PA minister Yasser Abed Rabbo announced on Wednesday.
Abed Rabbo, one of the architects of the Geneva Initiative who is closely associated with PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, said the referendum would be held even if Hamas continues to oppose it. He said a legal team had been set up to prepare for the referendum, which is expected to be held within five weeks.
"The referendum is a duty whether we reach an agreement [with Hamas] or the dispute continues," Abed Rabbo said, adding that the results of the referendum would be seen as a vote of confidence or non-confidence in Abbas's policies.
He disclosed that Abbas was not opposed to the idea of including Palestinians living abroad in the proposed referendum. "Our only condition is that the referendum abroad be held under the supervision of the Palestinian Central Election Commission," he said. "The host countries also have to agree to such a move because we don't want to infringe on their sovereignty."
Abed Rabbo, who is representing the PLO in the current "national dialogue" talks aimed at resolving differences between Abbas's Fatah party and Hamas, said the main sticking point remains Hamas's refusal to recognize United Nations resolutions and Arab peace plans.
He said Fatah was ready to join a Hamas-led government on condition that the Islamic movement accepted the prisoners' document. "We are ready to go to a national unity government to break the siege imposed on our people, to destroy Ehud Olmert's plan for unilateral measures and to show the world that there is a Palestinian partner that is prepared to negotiate," he stressed.
Hamas reacted angrily to Abed Rabbo's statements, saying he was trying to impose his policies on the Palestinians.
"These remarks are very dangerous," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "They refer to the referendum as fait accompli, regardless of whether the national dialogue fails or succeeds. This means that the dialogue is not aimed at reaching understandings, but imposing political concessions on the Palestinians."
The Hamas spokesman expressed "astonishment" at the fact that Abbas had chosen Abed Rabbo to represent him at the discussions with Hamas. "This is a man who gave up the right of return in the Geneva Initiative and now he's talking on behalf of our people," he added. "He's threatening a government that won the majority of 60 percent of the people that the president will dismantle it if it does not accept the prisoners' document."
Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel reiterated his movement's refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist and accused the PLO of committing a "strategic crime" against the Palestinians by signing the Oslo Accords. "Hamas will never recognize Israel," he said. "Recognition of Israel does not exist in the dictionary of the Palestinian people. The Palestinians are not suffering from us, but from those who signed the cursed Oslo Accords."
Tensions between Hamas and Fatah moved to the Palestinian Legislative Council, which held a stormy session here on Thursday to discuss a number of issues related to financial corruption and security, as well as attacks on Palestinian journalists and editors.
Many Fatah legislators presented questions to Interior Minister Said Siam about the new Hamas security force in the Gaza Strip, holding him responsible for the current state of anarchy and lawlessness. The minister, who was speaking from Gaza City through a video link, requested additional time to study the questions.
Radwan al-Akhras, a Fatah legislator, accused Hamas's Information Minister of intimidating journalists and practicing "intellectual terror." Another legislator, Muhammed Hijazi, questioned the Minister for Wakf Affairs, Nayef Rajoub, about recent cases of violence in mosques in the Gaza Strip between Fatah and Hamas supporters.