Abbas set to call referendum on statehood
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was expected to call a snap referendum on Tuesday on a statehood plan that implicitly recognises Israel, despite the protests of the Hamas-led government.
The move comes after last-minute talks failed to clinch an agreement between his Fatah party and the hard-line Hamas on how to solve a deepening political and financial crisis since the Islamist movement won a January election.
The date of what would be the first Palestinian referendum was likely to be set during a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee and senior parliamentarians, being chaired by Abbas.
The top decision-making body—whose overall authority is not recognised by Hamas—started its meeting at the Palestinian Authority leadership headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah shortly after 11am local time.
In a statement, Abbas’s office stated that “the president will fix the date for holding this referendum after this meeting”.
However, a senior member of the executive committee, former Cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, told reporters before the meeting that Abbas could allow for a further brief delay in a last-ditch bid to reach an agreement with Hamas.
“We are going to look at the possibility of extending the dialogue for two or three days following a request by Arab leaders, who are in favour of giving another chance to Hamas, as well as a request by the prisoners,” said Abed Rabbo.
“We could agree to another delay during our meeting today.”
Abbas served Hamas with a 10-day deadline until midnight on Monday to agree on solving the crisis and accept the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, or he would put a statehood initiative to a referendum within 40 days.
The Hamas-led government, which took office in March after routing Fatah in a January election, has been boycotted and starved of direct aid from the European Union and the United States, bringing the Palestinian Authority to the brink of financial meltdown.
The West has made the resumption of political contacts and financial aid dependent on Hamas recognising Israel’s right to exist, renouncing violence and honouring past international agreements signed by the Palestinians.
Furthermore, a power struggle between the Fatah-controlled security services and Hamas has disintegrated into deadly feuding in the Gaza Strip.
Begun on May 25, 10 days of so-called national dialogue had centred on the statehood plan, which was drawn up by faction leaders jailed in Israel.
The blueprint implies an implicit recognition of the Jewish state, through the establishment of a Palestinian state on land conquered by Israel in 1967, calls for an end to attacks in Israel and a national-unity government.
Hamas greeted the passing of the deadline with a call for more negotiations, but Abbas was said by aides to have ruled out any extension.
Not even a reported telephone call of more than an hour between Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya found a way out of the deadlock.
Haniya was on Tuesday to chair the weekly Palestinian Cabinet meeting in his Gaza City stronghold at the same time as the Abbas-PLO talks in Ramallah.
“We call on all the brothers in the factions to abandon the idea that the dialogue has failed. There is still much time to resume a serious dialogue and reach a national accord,” said Khalil al-Haya, a Hamas leader.
Another Hamas spokesperson, Sami Abu Zuhri, called the referendum plan a “manoeuvre” aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the Hamas government.
The prospect of a deal had long looked bleak amid vicious Fatah-Hamas rivalry, which has left at least 16 people dead since early May.
In the latest example of the tensions between the two factions, Hamas gunmen on Monday stormed an office of the Abbas-controlled Palestine TV, threatened journalists and ransacked equipment in the southern town of Khan Yunis, in the first such attack since the Islamists took office.—AFP.