Palestinian Media Reports Fatah, Al-Mustaqbal to Reach Compromise

Poll: 40% of Palestinians to vote Hamas in PLC elections; U.S. senators urge Bush to push ban on Hamas from polls.

Palestinian media sources reported Thursday morning that a compromise is near regarding the reunification of the ruling Fatah party and its breakaway faction Al-Mustaqbal.

The Alhayat Ahjadeeda newspaper reported that members of Al-Mustaqbal, led by Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison, have agreed to rejoin Fatah.

An official Palestinian Authority publication provided details of the compromise on the table. In a potential agreement, Barghouti would head the Fatah list into which his allies would be incorporated as well.

If the lists are combined, Fatah's standings in Palestinian polls are likely to improve. Support for Fatah has dropped since its young guard, represented by Barghouti, left in protest of the older guard's hold on the party.

A poll published on Thursday revealed that more than 40 percent of Palestinians plan to vote for Hamas in the coming Palestinian Legislative Council elections, Israel Radio reported.

According to a Palestinian research institute poll of 2,500 West Bank residents, only 20 percent of respondents said they would vote for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' ruling Fatah party.

Many of those polled said they are increasingly leaning toward Hamas because of the recent split in Fatah, the report said. It is unclear to what extent the Fatah percentage will rise if the factions are indeed reunited.

The poll questioned Palestinian residents in Ramallah, Nablus, Qalqilyah and El Bireh.

Abbas reconsiders election dateOn Wednesday Abbas said that the PA would have to reexamine holding next month's election after Israel's announcement it would bar East Jerusalem residents from voting.

Abbas' firm stand on holding the election as scheduled wavered for the first time as he told reporters in Ramallah that Israel's ban, due to Hamas' participation, has created a dangerous situation, which the Palestinian leadership must now examine.

Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath said the PA would not agree to elections without voters from Jerusalem.

However, Fatah sources, particularly from the party's newer guard, and diplomats said they were convinced Abbas must take a statesmanlike stance and adhere to holding the election on January 25.

A European diplomat said the Israeli and American position, which also opposed to the participation of the militant group in elections, strengthens Hamas, as it is portrayed as the threatened national-patriotic movement.

Hamas' senior official in Beirut, Osama Hamdan, told a Palestinian reporter on Wednesday that if Israel prevents voting in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem representatives can be appointed in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

However, an unnamed senior Fatah member said he vehemently objects to this solution. He said this was a political question of principle, because giving in to Israel on voting in Jerusalem means renouncing the position that East Jerusalem is occupied territory and part of the West Bank.

U.S. senators ask president to push to bar Hamas from pollsSeventy U.S. senators on Wednesday called on President George W. Bush to make it clear to Palestinian leaders that Hamas and other groups that the United States wants terrorist organizations to disarm or either be banned from the upcoming Palestinian elections.

In a letter to Bush the senators said the United States "would have little choice but to reevaluate all aspects of our relations" with the Palestinian Authority if Hamas "or such groups" were brought into it.

The Senate letter follows a resolution passed overwhelmingly last week by the House of Representatives that also urged the exclusion of Hamas from the Jan. 25 parliamentary ballot.

The House resolution said Hamas' participation could undermine the ability of the United States to provide assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

Senators said they were "deeply disappointed" that Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas "has yet to do what the Palestinian Authority has committed to doing on numerous occasions - asserting its control over the terrorist groups that operate freely within the West Bank and Gaza."

The senators said Bush should "press the Palestinian leaders to use the leverage they now have with these terrorist groups to insist that they adhere to a basic set of principles before they can run for political office."