The chairman of the Palestinian Authority central elections committee has officially informed PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that elections cannot be held for a new chairman and legislature on January 24, as scheduled, possibly giving him an escape route from an impulsive decision to abandon his post as PA chairman.
Senior Fatah official Hanna Nasser blamed the delay on the Hamas terrorist organization's refusal to allow Gaza residents to participate in the polls, and its refusal to recognize the commission. Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in a militia war with the rival Fatah faction, has said it will punish any resident that tries to vote in the election.
Fatah, which is run by Abbas, currently controls the Ramallah-based PA government, which has maintained control only over the PA areas of Judea and Samaria since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007.
Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have tried numerous times to persuade the two factions to work together within the same government. Most recently, Egyptian negotiators met with delegations from Fatah and Hamas to work out a reconciliation between the two, and there has been talk of a possible truce deal to be signed at the end of November. On Wednesday, Abbas repeated his offer of "a hand outstretched in friendship" to Hamas; however, the terrorist group scorned the attempt as a "tactic," which senior official Sami Abu Zuhri said was "evidence of the credibility of Hamas's position".
Another difficulty cited by Nasser was the question of whether elections could be held in the Arab sections of Jerusalem, where Israel maintains sovereignty but where many are considered "citizens" of the Palestinian Authority. In the past, Israel has allowed residents who live in areas of Jerusalem that were restored to the city after the 1967 Six Day War to vote in PA elections. However, PA officials say they are not convinced the Netanyahu administration will be as cooperative on this matter as past Israeli governments.
Nasser recommended to Abbas on Thursday that he formally postpone the date for the PA elections until the issue of holding polls in Gaza, and the other matters, can be resolved.
Postponement an Advantage to Abbas
The delay may work to Abbas's advantage; since announcing last week that he would not run for re-election, the PA chairman has found himself with no exit strategy from a vow he made in frustration at the lack of movement in talks with Israel.
Abbas has cited Israel's unwillingness to completely cease all construction in Jewish cities and towns in Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem restored to the capital following the 1967 Six Day War as the reason for ending his tenure.
Perceived as a "moderate" partner for peace by Western nations, Abbas was besieged by an outpouring of appeals from American, European, Israeli and Arab leaders to reconsider his position.
The current situation has provided a perfect rationale for Abbas to delay new elections indefinitely. And since any postponement of PA elections technically requires Abbas's approval as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PA chairman can actually remain in power for as long he chooses.