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Palestinians Plan Vote Hamas Opposes by September

The Palestinian Authority plans to hold parliamentary and presidential elections by September, the first polling in more than five years, a decision rejected by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

“The aim of holding the elections by September this year is to try to get out of the current impasse and let the people say their word,” Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi told journalists in Ramallah yesterday.

Peace talks with Israel that Egypt was trying to mediate have been complicated by a four-year split between Hamas and Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The term of the existing parliament and president ended more than a year ago.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoom said the group wouldn’t participate in any elections, meaning no polling would take place in the Gaza Strip. Hamas members in the West Bank, ruled by the Palestinian Authority, would probably boycott the elections if held there, said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University.

Holding elections may also be an attempt to prevent protests such as those seen in Tunisia and Egypt from spreading, Abusada said.

“The Palestinian Authority is trying, in a pre-emptive decision, to contain any future protest in the West Bank,” he said.

‘Won’t Cooperate’

“It is trying to say, we welcome any elections, we want elections, and it is Hamas that will not cooperate,” Abusada said. Without Hamas participation, the vote isn’t likely to take place, he said, noting the announcement didn’t set a date for the polling.

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, ending a partnership government with Fatah after winning parliamentary elections. People in Gaza, on the border of Egypt, have celebrated with rallies the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that followed 18 days of protests, while reaction in the West Bank has been muted.

The split in the two Palestinian factions, which has left Abbas in control of the West Bank only, has been cited by Israel as an obstacle in reaching any peace agreement that would establish an independent state.

The most recent peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in September after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t extend a 10-month partial construction freeze in West Bank settlements. Abbas has refused to negotiate as long as the building continues.

Negotiator Quits

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said he resigned yesterday. In an interview today with Army Radio, Erakat said he was stepping down to take responsibility for a leak of confidential documents relating to peace talks with Israel.

Last month, Al Jazeera released memos and e-mails from private meetings that, if authentic, show Palestinian negotiators were prepared to give up claims to parts of East Jerusalem and swap some Jewish settlements in the West Bank for territory within Israel in 2008 talks. Al Jazeera didn’t say how it obtained the documents.

“Erakat was the top negotiator for 17 years,” said Abusada. “There is a stalemate with the Israelis, and I believe the Palestinians, even in the West Bank, would like to see someone else in charge, someone who is not ready to make the compromises made by Erakat.”

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