Palestinians to set new date for elections

AP News
Posted: Nov 20, 2009 12:23 PM

Palestinian officials announced Friday that a new date for parliamentary and presidential elections will be set next month now that President Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to postpone the January vote, though the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers maintain they will boycott the voting.

The elections were supposed to be a central component of an Egyptian-mediated effort to reconcile Abbas and his rivals in the Islamic militant group Hamas. Months of talks, however, have failed to produce a deal, and Abbas had decided to move ahead with elections anyway, angering Hamas.

The militant group has controlled the Gaza Strip since seizing power from forces loyal to Abbas in June 2007, leaving the president at the head of a Western-backed government that controls only the West Bank.

The Palestinian Election Commission said last week that the Jan. 24 voting should be put off, saying that Hamas' opposition made it impossible for voting to take place in Gaza.

Abbas said in an interview with BBC Arabic on Thursday that he has agreed to that recommendation.

He said he still hopes to reconcile with Hamas so that voting can go forward in Gaza, as well as the West Bank and Arab areas of Jerusalem.

The Election Commission said Friday it would meet in December to set a new date.

Adding to uncertainty surrounding the voting, Abbas said in the BBC interview that he was standing by his decision not to seek another term as president. He announced at the beginning of the month that he planned to leave politics because he was frustrated over the 10-month stalemate in Israel-Palestinian peace efforts.

His departure would throw peace efforts into turmoil, particularly if a Hamas candidate were to be elected president. Both Israel and the United States consider the group a terrorist organization and refuse to have any dealings with its politicians.

"The decision not to run myself for elections is a final decision," Abbas said. "The issue doesn't depend on changing the circumstances that led me not to run for the upcoming elections, even if the circumstances changed or altered completely. As for me, I took my decision, I'm not running."