The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pledged to press ahead with elections in the New Year, despite warnings from Hamas it could lead to an irrevocable split between Gaza and the West Bank. Abbas, though, still hopes for reconciliation:
“We will continue to apply the law and the constitution, but we will pursue the process of reconciliation as well,” he said. “We will continue our work and negotiations based on international legitimacy.”
Abbas’ proposals were rejected by Hamas, who hinted they might hold their own ballot. That could create two rival presidents and two rival parliaments in two rival Palestinian territories.
“We consider this announcement as giving in to American and Israeli pressure,” said Hamas spokesman Izzat al-Rishq. “Elections should be part of the reconciliation process and not an alternative to it.”
Palestinian unity is as much a practical as an ideological problem: Abbas’ Fatah faction is confined to the West Bank, while Hamas rules Gaza.
The two sides split violently when fighting erupted in Gaza in 2007 and Hamas drove Fatah fighters out. That was just a year after the last elections, which Hamas had won to take control of the narrow coastal strip.
Abbas has hinted elections could be postponed until next summer if the two sides can reach some kind of agreement. But the angry reaction from Hamas is seen as a bad omen for reconciliation.