Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
November 12, 2009 - 1:00am

Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections cannot be held on their scheduled date in January, Palestinian Authority election officials said Thursday. The announcement removed some of the immediate uncertainty surrounding the future of the current president, Mahmoud Abbas, who said recently that he would not run for a second term.

The officials said the voting could not be held because Hamas, which controls Gaza, would not allow them to begin preparations for the elections there. The announcement is not a surprise; Hamas had earlier said it would bar voting in Gaza because it and Mr. Abbas’s Fatah faction, which is now concentrated in the West Bank, have not reconciled.

Mr. Abbas still has to approve the recommendation to postpone the elections, but Palestinian Authority officials expect him to agree.

The likely postponement reflects the depth of the schism between the Palestinian factions since Hamas routed Fatah in Gaza during several days of deadly fighting in 2007.

Although the announcement on Thursday would seem to give Mr. Abbas more time to decide whether he wanted to stand aside in the elections, many questions remain about his plans.

Some aides recently signaled that he might resign. But there have been mixed messages coming out of Ramallah, the authority’s headquarters in the West Bank.

Speaking on Wednesday at a rally marking the anniversary of the death of his predecessor, Yasir Arafat, Mr. Abbas said he did not want to talk about his future. Instead he focused on the challenges in the struggle to establish an independent Palestinian state, and he called for reconciliation with Hamas.

Several Palestinian officials, including Ghassan Khatib, a longtime analyst and the director of the Palestinian government media center, have said in recent days that Mr. Abbas is unlikely to resign ahead of elections because it would effectively hand power to Hamas, at least temporarily.

According to the Palestinian Basic Law, if a president resigns or is incapacitated, the speaker of the parliament assumes the presidency for a maximum of 60 days while new elections are arranged. The position of speaker is currently held by a senior Hamas figure, Aziz Dweik. Mr. Dweik, who lives in the West Bank, was released from an Israeli prison in June after serving most of a three-year sentence for belonging to an illegal organization.

Mr. Khatib said the delay in the election would allow time for a possible reconciliation between the Fatah movement and Hamas. He said there was a “strong possibility” that Hamas would agree to an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal, which proposes holding the elections with the agreement of both sides next June.

Hamas won the last parliamentary elections in 2006, a year before it took over Gaza, restricting the power of the Palestinian Authority to the West Bank.

Mr. Abbas recently called the elections for Jan. 24, when the parliament’s four-year term expires. Mr. Abbas was elected to a four-year term as president in 2005 after the death of Mr. Arafat. But the authority’s legal experts extended his mandate by a year, saying that presidential and parliamentary elections should be held at the same time.


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