Wafa Amr
November 23, 2008 - 8:00pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday he would call for elections in 2009 if his secular Fatah movement and its Islamist rivals Hamas do not reconcile by the end of this year.

"If the dialogue does not begin, and if we fail, I will issue a presidential decree early next year calling for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections," Abbas told members of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

He did not name a date. Elections could be held 90 days after his decree, but there was no hint of when that might be.

Abbas did not say how a single election could be held, given that Fatah and Hamas now dominate separate territories. He also did not address the probability that Hamas would refuse to take part, given that it has rejected previous election calls.

Abbas and Hamas blame each other for obstructing efforts by Egypt to heal the rift between the Palestinians, which has undermined Abbas's efforts to negotiate peace with Israel.

Hamas won the last election held by the Palestinians in January 2006, confounding Western hopes that it would reinforce Abbas and his Fatah faction, advancing peace talks.


Abbas fired the Hamas-led government after the Islamist group took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007 in fighting with Fatah loyalists who were driven out. Fatah holds sway over the occupied West Bank but Gaza is firmly in the hands of Hamas.

Hamas says it will not recognize Abbas as president once his four-year term expires, on January 9. It has demanded new presidential elections, but has rejected Abbas's insistence on holding parliamentary elections at the same time which could cut short Hamas's dominance of the Palestinian parliament.

Abbas says the law gives him the right to stay in power until 2010.

In a largely symbolic show of support for Abbas, the Palestinian Central Council, the Palestine Liberation Organization's highest legislative body, unanimously elected Abbas Sunday as president of a future state, a post held previously by the late Yasser Arafat.

Abbas said Egypt had drafted a reconciliation deal calling for a non-factional government to end the split and prepare for new elections. But Hamas walked from scheduled talks in Cairo earlier this month before they began.

"This is not the end of the road. We will pursue our efforts. We will continue," Abbas said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Abbas defended himself against accusations by Hamas that he was a puppet of Israel and the United States. "I do not succumb to the Israeli-American veto. I do what is in the interest of the Palestinian people," he said.

Washington had pressed Israel not to block the 2006 election over the participation of Hamas. Israeli and U.S. officials say Israel and the United States are unlikely to allow any repetition of that risk, unless Hamas renounces violence.

"Israel did not want Hamas to participate in the last elections. That was an American initiative. I doubt it would repeat itself," said an official of the opposition Likud party.

A Hamas victory would mean Israel would have "absolutely no one to talk to on the other side," he said.


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