Abbas postpones elections to the PLC
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) issued a presidential order Friday postponing elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council until an unspecified date.
The announcement drew an angry response from Hamas, which accused Fatah of breaking its agreement to hold elections to the parliament on July 17.
"This decision was taken unilaterally ... and it came as a response to the conditions and the atmosphere of the Fatah movement, not because of any national consideration," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip.
Senior Fatah officials close to Abbas told Haaretz last week that they expected elections to be held some time between November and January.
Fatah hopes to use the postponement to organize its general convention and overcome internal dissent so it can put together an agreed-upon list of candidates. This is needed to ensure a strong stand against Hamas in the face of its major gains in recent municipal elections.
Abbas said the delay would allow changes in the election bill. The bill has passed its third reading, but has not yet been signed into law by Abbas, who is said to feel it hurts Fatah's chances at the polls while helping Hamas.
Abbas wants all candidates chosen on national lists, which allows for a stronger showing by national Fatah candidates. He had originally reached an agreement with Hamas on a system in which 50 percent of the 121-seat parliament would be elected on a regional basis and 50 percent by party list. But the bill as passed states that two-thirds of the seats will be elected on a regional basis and one-third by party list.
The change serves those with local support from their hamula, or extended family, and Hamas, with its powerful connections on the local level, while hurting Abbas' efforts to create a national Fatah list.
After Abbas' return Friday from Amman, where he was hospitalized and underwent angioplasty, he also announced his intention to appoint a deputy to take over his duties if he becomes incapacitated.
"Age and time of death are in the hands of Allah, and developments should be clear," the 69-year-old Abbas said.
Aluf Benn adds: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Abbas on Friday, wishing him a quick recovery from the surgery, and reiterating an invitation to meet in Jerusalem on June 21. The chairman thanked Sharon, and said he is looking forward to the meeting and to promoting the peace process. The venue for the meeting is still in dispute: The Israelis want to host Abbas at the prime minister's Jerusalem residence or office, while the Palestinians want the meeting to take place in Cairo.