The Palestinian Legislative Council is expected to hold a stormy session on Monday to discuss Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's decision to hold a referendum next month over a document drafted by some Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Bassem Barhoum, spokesman for the Hamas-dominated PLC, said the council will discuss the legal implications of the referendum, due to take place on July 26. "This will be the only issue on the agenda," he said. "The council will have to decide whether the referendum is legal or not."
The decision to convene the PLC comes amid increased tensions between Abbas's Fatah party and Hamas, which sees the referendum as part of a conspiracy to topple the elected Hamas government.
Fatah legislator Walid Assaf said he and his colleagues would meet on Sunday night to discuss whether they would attend the session. "The Palestinian Basic Law does not say anything against a referendum," he said. "President Abbas was elected by the people and therefore he has the power to call a referendum."
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who met with Abbas in Gaza City late Saturday night, reiterated his movement's strong opposition to the referendum. He reportedly warned Abbas that the referendum could trigger civil war among the Palestinians and urged him to reconsider his decision.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said it was "inconceivable" that a referendum be held while Israel was continuing its attacks on the Palestinians and after Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert declared that the prisoners' document was irrelevant. He pointed out that the Hamas prisoners who had signed the controversial document withdrew their support for it.
The Hamas prisoners accused Abbas of using the document to extract political concessions from Hamas, saying they were unaware that he would call a referendum on its content.
The announcement by the Hamas prisoners is seen as a severe blow to Abbas, who will no longer be able to argue that the document represents all the prisoners in Israeli jails.
Imprisoned Islamic Jihad official Bassam Sa'di, whose signature also appears on the document, also decided to withdraw his support for it.
Issa Karaki, a Fatah legislator who heads the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, insisted that the Hamas prisoners' stance toward the document did not change. "They are only opposed to the referendum, not to the document itself," he
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a top aide to Abbas, said Hamas's rejection of the referendum was "unjustified." He hinted that the referendum would be called off once Hamas accepted
the prisoners' document. "Hamas does not understand the meaning of democracy," he said. "They want to monopolize power without talking to anyone."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin al-Kassam, said his group was not afraid of Israel's threats to target Hamas leaders and members in response to the rocket attacks on Israel.
"We are taking these threats seriously, but we're not scared," said Abu Obaidah, the Hamas spokesman. "These threats are for internal consumption inside Israel. The policy of assassinations has already failed to stop the
rocket attacks and we will continue with our attacks, by God's will."