Abbas calls for unity talks or early elections

PA president says he won't resign separately from parliament; Mahsaal slams Hebrew press ads.

Abbas AP 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Abbas AP 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Threatening to call early presidential and parliamentary elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday sought the backing of a key decision-making body for his plan to extend his term in office by a year. Abbas's decision to convene the PLO Central Council in Ramallah came after the failure of Egypt to broker an agreement between Abbas and Hamas over the extension of the PA president's term, which expires on January 9. Hamas and several other Palestinian groups have announced that they will not recognize Abbas as president after that date. Hamas has even declared that it intends to appoint the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), who happens to be a top Hamas official, as interim PA president. Addressing the PLO representatives, Abbas said he would call early elections if efforts to end the dispute with Hamas did not succeed by the end of the year. "We are very keen on the dialogue [with Hamas] and its success," he said. "But if the dialogue fails, there will be a presidential decree for holding simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections at the beginning of next year." It's not clear how Abbas plans to hold elections when he doesn't even have the power - according to the PA Basic Law - to dissolve the PLC. Nor is it clear how such elections could take place at a time when Abbas doesn't have control over the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Hamas leaders scoffed at Abbas's threat, reiterating their position that they would not recognize his status as PA president after January 9. "Yes, we will have two presidents in January," said Moussa Abu Marzuk, a top Damascus-based Hamas leader. "Abbas will lose his legitimacy and credibility after January 9 and he will become the president of the West Bank only." Mahmoud Zahar, a prominent Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said Abbas had no right to call early elections or to unilaterally extend his term. Asked what would happen if the PLO Central Council decided to back Abbas's position, Zahar replied: "The resolutions of this body are nonbinding. This body has lost its credibility and its decisions apply only to Fatah." Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum dismissed Abbas's threat to hold early elections as "unconstitutional and illegal." Hamas totally opposed new legislative elections, since the PLC's term ended only in January 2010, Barhoum said. Islamic Jihad also rejected Abbas's call for early elections, warning that such a move would deepen divisions among the Palestinians. It said its members would anyway boycott the elections "because they would be held under the umbrella of the Israeli occupation." The row over the expiration of Abbas's term was supposed to be solved at a Palestinian "national dialogue" conference in Cairo earlier this month. The Egyptian-sponsored conference was called off at the last minute when Hamas announced that it would boycott it. Hamas officials said the decision to boycott the planned gathering was taken in protest against the ongoing crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank by Abbas's security forces. The officials revealed that at least 600 Hamas supporters had been detained by Abbas's Fatah-controlled forces in the West Bank in the last five weeks. But Abbas on Sunday dismissed the Hamas charges, saying there were no "political prisoners" in PA jails in the West Bank. "We don't accept arrests based on one's ideology or political affiliations," he said in his speech before the PLO leaders. "The security measures were taken against those who violated the principle of one weapon and one authority in the Palestinian territories. These measures were directed against everyone and not only against a certain faction. However, it's possible that some mistakes were made, but they were immediately corrected." Referring to the peace talks with Israel, Abbas said the two sides had failed to reach an agreement on any of the major issues such as settlements, borders and the status of Jerusalem. "We used to go to the talks [with Israel] so as not to give Israel, the US and the Quartet an excuse to say that we don't want to negotiate," he said. Abbas added that while the Palestinians had done their utmost to advance the peace process, Israel continued to build settlements and the security barrier, which he described as a racist wall. He also accused Israel of failing to remove even one IDF checkpoint in the West Bank.