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Abbas leans toward calling early elections

Leaders of the governing Hamas movement reject the option .

By WASHINGTON POST
Published December 10, 2006


JERUSALEM - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is inclined to call early elections, including for his office, to end the political and economic crisis in the territories, Palestinian officials said Saturday.

The officials spoke after a meeting of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization that presented him with 17 options to end the months-long stalemate with the governing Hamas movement, whose leaders immediately rejected the proposed early elections. Abbas heads the influential panel, which is dominated by his Fatah party.

The proposals also included one to continue talks with Hamas over the formation of a power-sharing government acceptable to international donors, who cut aid to the Palestinian Authority following the radical Islamic movement's victory in parliamentary elections in January. Abbas was elected in a separate presidential vote in 2005.

Hamas, whose leaders recently reiterated their vow never to recognize Israel's right to exist, is classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel. Hamas is not a member of the PLO, which is recognized by Israel as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Abbas is expected to give a national address this week on how he intends to end the crisis that has battered the economy and increased partisan strife in the territories. He is under pressure from his own party to move decisively at a time when talks over a unity government have foundered again.

"After hearing all of the options, the president is leaning toward going back to the people with early elections for the presidency and parliament," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator and a member of the PLO's executive committee, who attended the meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Erekat said Abbas dismissed the option that he continue talks with Hamas.

Abbas could sidestep legal questions over his ability to call early parliamentary elections if he also appears on the ballot. Palestinian election law is unclear on this point. But his aides say the president is allowed to dissolve parliament if he also submits to the vote, which polls show would not necessarily favor his party.

"The only exit from this crisis is a national unity government," said Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official in Gaza, adding that the movement would not submit to early elections.

The cut in aid to the Palestinian Authority has left the government unable to pay full salaries to its 165,000 workers, causing widespread hardship throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.