Report: Palestinian President to Press Hamas to Hold Elections in May

Abbas apparently told Fatah to prepare for poll, though he reportedly won't be contending; U.S. renews $200m aid package to Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) told senior officials in his Fatah faction that he intends to propose to Hamas that general elections be held in May, the London-based Al Hayat newspaper reported Monday. Abbas told Fatah leaders to prepare for elections, but that he himself was not running for office again, the newspaper said.

Abbas reportedly said he would propose the elections at his next meeting with Hamas political bureau head Khaled Meshal, this week or next week.

Mahmoud Abbas in Doha - AFP - October 30, 2011

The argument over the election date has been one of the major obstacles to reconciliation between the Palestinian factions. Abbas was interested in holding an election as soon as possible, while Hamas demanded putting it off until the summer.

Abbas and Meshal are expected to meet in Cairo after the Eid el Adha holiday, which ends on Wednesday.

Abbas is cited as telling Fatah leaders to make immediate preparations for elections and did not rule out the possibility they would be held in February.

"You must prepare for elections as of now, and don't say I didn't tell you," he said.

The officials reportedly asked Abbas to lead Fatah in the elections, but he firmly declined and said he was not going to run again and they should pick another candidate.

In May 2011 Hamas and Fatah agreed to hold elections within a year. Since then, however, all attempts to reconcile the factions failed and the efforts were resumed only recently, following the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas.

One of the disagreements between the factions is over the leader of the interim unity government in the period until the elections. Abbas demanded appointing Salam Fayyad as the head of the interim cabinet, but Hamas rejected this out of hand.

Now Abbas is expected to propose to Meshal that both governments, Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, push for general elections for president and parliament, regardless of the absence of a unity government.

The United States has renewed the $200 million financial aid to the Palestinians, after a top House Republican ended her hold on the money.

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who blocked the money to the Palestinians in August following the UN statehood row, informed the Obama administration she was no longer blocking its transfer.

Ros-Lehtinen cited President Barack Obama's certification that the funds were in the national security interests of the United States as well as word that the government of Israel did not object to the assistance.

With reporting from AP.