Abbas: We May Be Forced to Reexamine PA Election

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that the PA would have to reexamine holding next month's election in view of Israel's intention to bar East Jerusalem residents from voting.

Abbas' firm stand on holding the election as scheduled wavered for the first time.

He told reporters in Ramallah that Israel's intention to bar East Jerusalem residents from taking part in the election, because of the 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 Jerusalem's voters.

However, Fatah sources and diplomats said they were convinced Abbas must take a statesmanlike stance and adhere to holding the election on January 25.

The sources said there is a movement in the Fatah, described as the "new guard," which supports holding the election even if it results in victory for Hamas.

At the same time, Fatah sources said that Israel's barring voting in East Jerusalem provides those fearing elections with a good excuse not to hold them.

The diplomats and Palestinian sources assumed that Israel's announcement about barring the election in East Jerusalem was made with the United States' agreement.

A European diplomat said the Israeli and American position strengthens Hamas in any case, as it is portrayed as the threatened national-patriotic movement.

Postponing the election might drive Hamas to come out in a direct attack on the PA as a body that does not respect the will of the people. If the PA decides to put off the election, it would require various mediating agents like the Egyptians to obtain Hamas' agreement.

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

However, a senior Fatah member 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.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, who heads an independent list, called on the PA to challenge Israel and hold the election on time in Jerusalem as well, "even if the vote is done from door to door."

In contrast to the Hamas' exemplary organization and electoral triumphs in the local authorities, Fatah has split into two official lists, while Fatah gunmen go on a rampage almost daily.

Fatah is looking for a legal way to overcome the split. Officially the candidates' lists closed last Wednesday and the split is a fait accompli, unless one of the lists decides to back off, which is highly unlikely.

If Fatah can formulate a united list again, it would strengthen Fatah vis-a-vis Hamas, and allay the internal tension in the movement.

One way of doing so is to have the Central Elections Committee reopen the candidates' registration for a few hours, to make up for the hours that were lost when Fatah militants took over some of the committee's offices last week.