Qureia Quits PA Election Race, to Remain as Prime Minister

Less than a day after the Fatah movement decided to unify its two competing lists for the upcoming general elections, in keeping with an agreement reached with young guard leader Marwan Barghouti, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia announced his withdrawal from the race. Qureia said he would therefore not be resigning as prime minister, a step required by Palestinian law if he stood for election to the Palestinian Legislative Council (the parliament).

Rawhi Fattouh, the speaker of the PLC, also announced he was backing out of the race.

According to Barghouti's conditions, the national slate would not include present members of the PLC, Fatah's central committee, its revolutionary council, PA ministers or members of the Palestinian National Council. The unifying of the lists, therefore, means that both Qureia and Fattouh will be able to run only in their districts.

Qureia's decision to bow out of the race is seen as conceding that he might make a poor showing at the local level, although Qureia denies this to be the case. Sources in Fatah say many of the old guard are worried about running at the local level, which will highlight their lack of popularity.

Qureia also said his withdrawal was unconnected to internal struggles between the old guard, to which he belongs, and the young guard, headed by Barghouti. He said he had bowed out of the race because he believed the elections should be postponed in light of the Israeli statement that it was banning voting in East Jerusalem.

Qureia had been No. 2 on the national list, which was headed by a little known Palestinian serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison.

Sources in Fatah told Haaretz that several senior Fatah leaders affected by Barghouti's terms have threatened to set up their own list, including old guard activists Intisar al-Wazir and Hakem Balawi, both of whom returned to the territories after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. The sources believed it to be an empty threat, adding that were a separate list set up, it would not attract voters.

In an exception to the terms he set, Barghouti will head the unified Fatah list.

Fatah is now putting together its list based on the results of the primaries and on public opinion polls. Sources in the movement concede that some of those who won in the primaries are not the best candidates to represent the movement and face off against well-spoken Hamas candidates.

Ten days ago, Barghouti's faction registered as a separate list because it believed the list put together by Abbas did not take into account the results of the primaries, in which many grass-roots candidates won.

The decision to merge the Fatah lists was taken in the shadow of Hamas' strong showing in the primaries and the Israeli threat not to allow polling in Jerusalem.

The old guard tried to use the threat to put off the elections to an unannounced future date to avoid dealing with the growing strength of Hamas and U.S. threats to cancel PA funding.

The young guard, on the other hand, wants elections held as scheduled - even at the cost of a defeat to Hamas. They were helped more than a year ago by international demands for democratization in the PA, which forced Yasser Arafat the go ahead with local elections. Elections for the internal organs of Fatah, controlled by the old guard and Arafat associates, did not seem likely, and it was believed that local elections would create a democratic dynamic.