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(photo credit: AP [file])
The Palestine Liberation Organization indefinitely extended Mahmoud Abbas's term as Palestinian Authority president on Wednesday and endorsed his refusal to negotiate with Israel unless it freezes all settlement construction.
The decision, which was expected, nonetheless gave an important vote of confidence to the embattled president. Abbas's inability to reconcile with Hamas or wrest concessions from Israel has hurt his popularity among many Palestinians.
Abbas has repeatedly threatened to step down in frustration over the impasse with Israel, while simultaneously hinting that he could be persuaded to remain in office. Wednesday's vote by the PLO's Central Council gives Abbas more time to work out his problems.
The vote endorsed Abbas's earlier decision to call off presidential and parliamentary elections, which had been set for January. Abbas says it is impossible to hold the election due to Hamas' refusal to allow voting in its Gaza Strip stronghold.
The extension, which also applies to parliament members, ensures that Abbas's government continues to function until elections can be held in "the entire homeland," said Central Council member Saleh Rafat. It did not set a date for a new vote.
In Gaza, Hamas criticized Wednesday's PLO vote as "a confiscation of democracy."
"The Central Council is not elected and illegal, and all of its decisions are illegal and not binding on our people," said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.
The Central Council also endorsed Abbas's refusal to return to negotiations with Israel until it stops settlement construction, despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's announcement of a 10-month moratorium on all new building projects in the West Bank.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said it was time for Abbas to return to talks, rather than dictate preconditions.
"We have just seen the Palestinian leadership place more and more obstacles in restarting the talks," he said. "I call upon the Palestinian side to stop making excuses and return to talks."