Fares Akram
The New York Times
May 28, 2012 - 12:00am

Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, made the first step on Monday toward ending his group’s disputes with the Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank, and creating a unity government.

Mr. Haniya began talks with officials from the Central Elections Commission, a group appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to begin registering voters in preparation for an election.

Hamas — among its many disputes with Mr. Abbas’s Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority — had banned the elections commission from operating in Gaza. That move had delayed a deal that Qatar brokered in February between Hamas and Fatah that envisioned the appointment of a transitional government that would rule both the West Bank and Gaza in preparation for elections.

Hanna Nasser, the head of the elections commission, told reporters after the meeting that Mr. Haniya had “blessed” its role in Gaza. “Now, the C.E.C. works in complete confidence,” he said.

Allowing the Central Elections Commission to operate in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, had been one of Mr. Abbas’s conditions in carrying out power-sharing agreements between Hamas and Fatah.

In the talks on Monday, Mr. Nasser and his aides, who traveled to Gaza from the West Bank, briefed Mr. Haniya on how the elections commission would operate in Gaza, whereas many as 250,000 eligible voters have not been registered. Mr. Nasser’s aides said the commission could start work right away.

The lists of potential voters have not been updated since Hamas routed pro-Abbas forces and wrested control of Gaza in 2007. “We need six weeks to complete the registration of voters,” Mr. Nasser said.

Under the power-sharing deal, Mr. Abbas would call together all the Palestinian factions to set a date for elections after the commission indicates that it is ready to hold them.

Officials from Hamas and Fatah were also set to meet in Cairo to agree on the makeup of the technocratic transitional government, which would be made up of independent professionals.

Mr. Haniya’s decision to allow the commission to begin registering voters came after the two factions signed an agreement in Cairo this month paving the way for the elections and the unity government.

“Without elections there will be no reconciliation,” Mr. Abbas said at the time.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017