Abbas Gives Hamas Until Friday to Say Yes to Referendum

Moments before leaping into an abyss that could set the stage for civil strife, PA chief Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah) gave rival Hamas terrorists three more days to consider his ultimatum.

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Scott Shiloh, | updated: 15:39

The Hamas, which governs the Palestinian Authority after winning a stunning upset against the Fatah in parliamentary elections last January, has thus far steadfastly opposed Abbas’ effort to push through a plan for establishing a PLO ruled state in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.

Abbas framed his proposal in terms of an ultimatum to the Hamas, originally giving them until Tuesday to accept the plan. By then, Abbas had threatened to sign an order forcing the PA to hold the referendum on the plan despite the opposition of its ruling party. That deadline has now been extended until Friday.

The referendum idea grew out of a plan known as the “prisoners’ initiative,” because it was largely drafted by convicted Fatah terrorists serving time in Israeli jails. The plan calls for a establishing a state run by the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, and the release of all convicted Arab terrorists serving time in Israeli jails.

One of the chief architects of the document outlining the initiative is Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah terrorist who was sentenced to multiple life terms for ordering and planning the murders of dozens of innocent Israelis after the outbreak of the Oslo War in September 2000.

According to the document, violence against Israelis would still be sanctioned by the emerging PLO state in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, but not inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders. The initiative also calls for returning Arab refugees from previous wars to their homes in Israel and making Jerusalem the capital of the new Arab state.

If a referendum is approved by a majority of PA Arabs, it would imply public acceptance of Israel's existence, according to commentators. Almost all Israeli politicians agree, however, that restoring Arab refugees to their pre-1948 status would presage Israel’s demise.

While the Hamas has refused to recognize the right of the Jewish people to an independent state in any part of the territory Israel now controls, the Islamic terror group does not oppose the referendum only on ideological grounds. The Hamas fears that Fatah is using the referendum as a means of usurping the group’s hard won election victory last January.

What worries the Hamas in particular is a provision in the initiative that effectively requires the emerging state to be governed by the PLO which is labeled “the sole representative of the Palestinian people.”

The Hamas is not a member of the PLO and has refused to join the organization that was founded in 1964 to serve as an umbrella for Arab terrorist organizations fighting Israel. Then, as now, Fatah remains by far, the largest component of the PLO.

If the Fatah backed referendum passes and serves as the foundation of an independent state, the Hamas might be excluded from governing that entity, so long as it remains determined to stay out of the non-Islamic PLO.

The high-stakes standoff between the rival terrorist groups grows even more precarious if Abbas uses the referendum issue as a pretext for calling new elections, a move that would effectively cancel the results of last January’s election and pave the way for a Fatah comeback.

Fatah chairman, Azzam Al Ahmed, told Al Jazeera that Abbas, has authority to set up an emergency government that would take the place of the Hamas controlled parliament.

Isma’il Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister of the PA called the Fatah referendum “illegal,” saying it violates PA legislation. He accused Abbas of exploiting the PA’s economic plight to “blackmail” the public into voting for the referendum. Other Hamas officials have accused Abbas of orchestrating a bloodless coup to purge the government of the Hamas.

Tension between the rival camps may push the PA to the brink of civil war. Five persons were killed in violent clashes between Fatah and the Hamas in Gaza on Sunday. Both groups have deployed heavily armed militias throughout the Gaza district in preparation for further clashes.