Jumana Al Tamimi
Gulf News
November 23, 2008 - 8:00pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could hold elections in the occupied West Bank alone if Hamas prevents the ballot from taking place in Gaza, an Abbas aide said on Monday.

"If Hamas forcibly prevents them from preparing for elections in Gaza, this is not going to stop the elections from being held. We will hold the elections in the West Bank and Hamas will be responsible for preventing the elections in Gaza," senior Abbas adviser Nimer Hammad said.

The election of Abbas as President of the state of Palestine by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) late on Sunday demonstrates serious concerns over Hamas' threats to stop recognising his authority after his term ends early next year, independent Palestinian analysts said on Monday.

Abbas's election as President aims to "boost his legitimacy in the face of Hamas threats... this shows they [Fatah and the PLO] are concerned about Hamas' threats. Otherwise, why would such a move come now?" Hami Al Masri, head of the West Bank-based Al Badael Centre for Studies and Research told Gulf News.

"The significance of the move is limited," Al Masri, said of Abbas's election by PLO Central Council. "It was a symbolic move, because there is no Palestinian state on the ground," he added.

Hamas was swift in challenging the election, saying the Central Council does not have the right, constitutionally, to elect the state president. "It is an illusion," Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas spokesperson in Gaza, told Gulf News.

Fatah and the PLO wanted to "create the perception that they have achieved something."

While many politicians describe the election of Abbas to fill the position that has been vacant since the death of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian icon, more than four years ago, as symbolic, they noted that what is more important - and maybe more dangerous, is if Abbas' threats to hold early elections if talks with Hamas fail, go through.

Abbas gave Hamas an end-of-year deadline yesterday to resume dialogue with his leadership or face snap elections.

Crucial days

"The next 45 days are crucial to the future of the Palestinian cause," Al Masri said. "If Abbas' threats are a kind of tactic, it is fine. If not, it is going to be a catastrophe," he told Gulf News.

Politicians and analysts describe the current crisis between Hamas and Fatah as the worst in the history of the Palestinian question.

Hamas and Fatah are locked in a deep political dispute that has exploded militarily more than once since Hamas won the last elections in 2006. By mid-2007, Hamas took control of Gaza, while the Palestinian National Authority kept its control over the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Arab-Israeli Knesset member Ahmad Al Teibi described the leaked Israeli military document published on Sunday in Haaretz daily that calls for contingency plans to prevent Palestinian elections as "Satanic leaking".

The assessment to be submitted to the Israeli Cabinet next month, urges to avoid fresh elections at all costs because of the risks of a new Hamas victory. It also warned of the possibility of Abbas's "disappearance" after his term ends.

"The elections should be held and all the Palestinians should be given the chance to participate," Teibi said. "Israel should stay out of the Palestinian democracy."

The Israeli report is "a media fabrication and a new lie," Barhoum said.


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