If Fatah and Hamas do not reconcile by the end of this year, Mahmoud Abbas (photo, from newsday.com), the Palestinian president, has said he would call for elections in 2009.
“If the dialogue does not begin, and if we fail, I will issue a presidential decree early next year calling for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections”, Mr Abbas told members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation on Sunday.
After his decree, elections could be held in 90 days, though there was no hint of when that might be.
Abbas’s remarks were immediately denounced by Hamas.
“We reject the calling of the elections because it is illegal and unconstitutional”, said Fawzi Barhum, a Hamas spokesman.
Another Hamas spokesman, Taher al-Nunu, said: “The law does not give any authority to the president on parliament and nobody can dissolve it before” elections are due in 2010.
In the last parliamentary elections in 2006, Hamas won a victory.
“Not the end of the road’
The two movements blame each other for obstructing efforts by Egypt to heal the rift between the Palestinians, which has undermined Abbas’s efforts to negotiate peace with Israel.
But Mr Abbas did not explain how a single election could be held, now that Fatah and Hamas dominate separate territories. Fatah controls the West Bank while Hamas is in control of Gaza.
Besides, the Palestinian president has not talked about the probability that Hamas would refuse to take part, given that it has rejected previous election calls.
The Hamas-led government has been fired by Mr Abbas after the group took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007, in fighting with Fatah loyalists who were driven out.
Mr Abbas’s four-year term expires on January 9. Though the president says the law gives him the right to stay in power until 2010, Hamas already said that it will not recognise him once the expiration date is passed and has demanded new presidential elections.
Egypt had drafted a reconciliation deal calling for a non-factional government to end the Palestinian split and prepare for new elections, said Mr Abbas. But earlier this month, Hamas abstained from scheduled talks before they began in Cairo.
“This is not the end of the road. We will pursue our efforts. We will continue”, said Mr Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
He also defended himself against accusations by Hamas saying that he is a puppet of Israel and the United States : “I do not succumb to the Israeli-American veto. I do what is in the interest of the Palestinian people.”