By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
The PLO Central Council is expected to convene in Ramallah on Tuesday to vote on extending Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's term in office until new elections are held in the PA-controlled territories.
The vote stands in contrast with Abbas's statements over the past few weeks to the effect that he has "no wish" to remain in power.
Abbas's term in office expired earlier this year, but he decided to stay in power after Fatah and Hamas failed to reach agreement on holding presidential and parliamentary elections.
Israel allowed 17 members of the council to travel from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank to attend the two-day discussions.
The PLO council, which is dominated by Abbas loyalists, is expected to vote in favor of extending his term. The council is also scheduled to approve the extension of the term of the Palestinian Legislative Council, whose 132 members were elected for four years in January 2006.
Abbas has been under pressure from Fatah and the PLO to abandon his threat not to run in a new presidential election.
Earlier this week, the Fatah Revolutionary Council, one of the key decision-making bodies, recommended during an emergency meeting in Ramallah that all PLO and Fatah institutions approve the proposal to extend Abbas's term in office.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official and adviser to Abbas, said that the PLO Executive Committee, another key decision-making body, had also recommended that the PA president's term be extended.
He said that a majority of PLO representatives wanted to see Abbas in power until circumstances allow holding new elections.
Wasel Abu Yusef, secretary-general of the Arab Liberation Front, a group that is participating in Tuesday's meeting, said that the council was set to approve the extension of Abbas's term.
He said that the move was needed to avoid a "constitutional vacuum" after Abbas's term in office expired. He added that representatives of other major groups that belong to the PLO have also expressed their support for the move.
Abu Yusef said that besides discussing the issue of Abbas's term in office, the PLO council is also expected to appeal to the United Nations Security Council to recognize a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence.
The council will also discuss ways of organizing street protests against the settlers and settlements in the West Bank, he said, adding that the demonstrations would also be held in protest against Israel's policy of "Judaizing" Jerusalem.
Abbas is also seeking support from the PLO and Fatah for his refusal to resume peace talks with Israel unless all construction work in the settlements and eastern Jerusalem was halted.
At the Fatah meeting earlier this week, Abbas reaffirmed his opposition to the resumption of the peace talks unless Israel halted all the construction work.
In a related development, a public opinion poll published on Monday showed that a majority of Palestinians do not want Abbas to run again.
The poll was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and included 1,200 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Organizers said the poll has a 3% margin of error.
The poll found that 57% of the Palestinians support Abbas's decision not to run in new elections, while only 36% oppose it. However, a majority of 58% of the Palestinians believes that Abbas will eventually reverse his decision and run.
If PA presidential elections were held today, Abbas would receive 54% of the vote (compared to 52% last August) and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh would receive 38% (the same as in last August), the poll showed.
According to the poll, Abbas's popularity stands at 55% in the West Bank and 52% in the Gaza Strip while Haniyeh's popularity stands at 36% in the West Bank and 43% in the Gaza Strip.
Satisfaction with Abbas's performance remains unchanged from four months ago (48%) with dissatisfaction estimated at 49%.
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