Abbas warms to possibility of postponing vote
Published: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 2, 2006 at 10:27 p.m.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Monday for the first time that he favors postponing the Jan. 25 parliamentary elections if Israel bars Jerusalem Palestinians from a vote already imperiled by violence and party infighting.
Abbas had previously resisted pressure to put off the election. Senior members of the ruling Fatah party had urged Abbas to delay it, reflecting growing fears that the Islamic group Hamas will deal the movement a stinging blow at the polls.
"We all agree that Jerusalem should be included in the elections," Abbas said in Doha, Qatar, in comments on the Al-Jazeera satellite channel. "If it is not included, all the factions agree there should be no elections."
In northern Gaza, meanwhile, two Islamic Jihad members were killed Monday night when their car exploded near the zone where Israel has banned Palestinians near the border. A third occupant of the car was wounded along with two bystanders, hospital officials said.
The Israeli military said it was an airstrike aimed at a senior member of Islamic Jihad.
An Islamic Jihad leader who calls himself Abu al-Walid said one of the dead was a senior field commander in the group, and the other was his aide.
Al-Walid threatened revenge against Israel. "These cowardly acts will not stop our resistance and our holy war," he said.
Israel hasn't said whether it will allow Jerusalem's 200,000 Palestinians to vote by absentee ballot, a process it has permitted in the past.
Leaders from Abbas' own Fatah party fear an election fiasco amid internal squabbles between old and young guards, while armed gangs, mostly from Fatah itself, spread mayhem in Gaza, calling into question whether orderly elections can be held at all.
In one incident Monday, about 200 Palestinian police, shooting in the air, briefly took over several government buildings to protest the Palestinian Authority's failure to impose law and order.
Later, Fatah gunmen briefly stole two police cars in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis and exchanged fire with security forces, officials said. No one was hurt.
Palestinian police have been powerless to halt the violence that has gripped Gaza since Israel withdrew in September. Last week, an officer was killed in a shootout between two feuding families.
Israel has declared part of the border area off-limits to Palestinians to try to stop rocket fire, charging that Palestinian security is not stopping the barrages. A rocket fired from Gaza landed in Israel on Monday but caused no damage or injuries, the military said.
Hovering over all the political maneuvering is Hamas, poised to score an impressive result in its first foray into parliamentary voting - largely because of Fatah corruption, ineptness and infighting. Sensing a strong showing at the polls, Hamas has insisted the election must take place as scheduled.
Israel's ban on Jerusalem voting would make a convenient excuse for delaying the vote, but Israeli officials say they don't want to take the blame and are looking for a compromise.
One Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss policy called the Jerusalem dispute a technical issue that could be resolved.
In the 1996 parliamentary election and again a year ago, when Abbas was elected to succeed Yasser Arafat, east Jerusalem's Palestinians voted by absentee ballot in post offices, because Israel says interim peace accords ban Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem.
The new factor in this election is Hamas participation. Israel objects, noting Hamas responsibility for dozens of deadly suicide bombings and its charter calling for Israel's destruction.
On Monday, Israeli police broke up a political gathering of Fatah supporters in Jerusalem but made no arrests, police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.
A participant in the meeting, Ahmed Ghneim, called the raid "the beginning of the battle for the elections in Jerusalem."
With the election campaign set to begin officially on Tuesday, Fatah leaders are looking for a formula that would satisfy Hamas objections to delaying the vote.
Samir Mashharawi of the Fatah young leadership said holding the elections under the current circumstances could "lead to a national disaster."
"We suggested forming a national salvation government in which all factions participate, including Hamas," he said.
Hamas has never served in a Palestinian government or run for parliament, rejecting the interim peace accords with Israel on which they are based.
Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki said Fatah's inability to clean its ranks of corrupt officials and bring law and order to Gaza is further hurting the movement.
He said delaying the vote could backfire against Fatah.
"If they delay for six months or one year ... Fatah won't be able to solve the chaos and the corruption, and I believe Fatah's internal problems will be complicated more," Shikaki said. "So it's in Fatah's interest to hold elections as soon as possible."
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