Abbas Sets the Date for National Elections

October 24, 2009
Abbas calls Palestinian elections for January
By Avi Issacharoff and News Agencies

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Friday for presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 24, in a bid to regain dominance of the badly divided Palestinian movement and sideline his Islamist rivals, Hamas.

An official of the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah, in the West Bank, said Abbas, 76, would lead his Fatah movement in the ballot, called after the rival factions failed to reach a unity deal in Egyptian-brokered talks.

The Western-backed president issued a decree calling for the vote to be held in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas. The Islamist movement has threatened to defy any unilateral election call by Abbas.

The president’s secular Fatah faction was unable to reach a unity deal with the Islamist group despite more than a year of negotiations and the two movements remain bitter rivals. Hamas officials said Abbas’s election call strikes a blow to reconciliation efforts. But an official close to Abbas said there was still time to avoid an open clash.

“If we reach to an agreement, the election date can be rescheduled,” he said. Hamas has the power to prevent a credible election taking place on its territory, home to 1.5 million Palestinians. A vote without the full participation of Gaza could effectively create two rival Palestinian powers in separate territories.

Following the announcement, U.S. President Barack Obama made “a very important” call on Friday to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, reaffirming his commitment to a Palestinian state, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said. He said in a statement that Obama and Abbas discussed “all issues related to the peace process and the difficulties facing it.”

He said Abbas expressed “his commitment for a peace process with clear terms of reference that would lead to an independent Palestinian state along with a halt to settlements.” Abu Rudeineh said the call “was very important for the future of the peace process and the region,” without giving any more details. Abbas later received a call from US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the two discussed “efforts to revive the peace process,” according to an official unattributed statement

The US has been pushing Abbas to resume negotiations with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu without conditions. The Palestinians, however, insist that Israel should first stop all settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem before negotiations can resume.



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