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The United States and several Arab states are pressing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to remain in office until new PA elections are called, in order to prevent a power vacuum that could result in the West Bank falling to Hamas.

If Abbas resigned, elections would automatically take place 60 days later, according to the PA constitution. In the meantime, his place would be filled by the head of the Palestinian Legislative Council - a post currently held by Hamas member Aziz al-Dweik.

Moreover, if a deal for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in fact goes through, it would include the release of many Hamas legislators - enough to restore Hamas' parliamentary majority and enable it to dictate the rules of the next election, which would presumably be designed to facilitate its chances of winning.

An Israeli security official predicted yesterday that Abbas "would not abandon the field to Hamas," but added that the possibility of his resigning could not be ruled out. Abbas himself told an Egyptian television station yesterday that he is determined not to stay in office.

A final decision on Abbas' continued tenure, and on the fate of the PA itself, will be made at a meeting of the PLO's Central Council in Ramallah in another 10 days. A senior security source told Haaretz that a large majority of the committee's 127 members are expected to support a motion authorizing Abbas to stay on as president until elections are called.

Israel has agreed to allow PLO members from both Gaza and overseas to go to Ramallah for the meeting. However, the security source said, Hamas is expected to bar the Gaza delegates from attending, just as it barred them from the Fatah convention in Bethlehem earlier this year.

The Obama administration has recently discussed several ideas for bolstering Abbas and preventing his resignation. One of these is a presidential letter stating that America believes any peace deal must be based on the June 4, 1967 borders and reiterating that it does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.