Palestinian Leaders Suddenly Call for Elections
By Ethan Bronner
The New York Times
February 12, 2011
JERUSALEM — The Palestinian leadership announced Saturday that it planned to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by September, apparently a response to the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt calling for greater democracy and government accountability.
The decision was announced in the West Bank city of Ramallah after a meeting of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which oversees the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is also the chairman of the P.L.O.
At the same meeting, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator with Israel, submitted his resignation and Mr. Abbas accepted it. A subcommittee was formed to look for a successor as well as to consider restructuring the negotiations unit.
The Islamist Hamas faction rejected the plan for national elections, saying Mr. Abbas had no legitimacy to call for them since he was serving beyond his term.
The Palestinians have not held elections since 2006, when Hamas won a majority in the parliament, leading to a year and a half of uneasy power sharing and a brief civil war in June 2007. Since then, Hamas has governed Gaza and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has controlled the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority announced that postponed local elections would be held in July, a move that Hamas also rejected.
Hamas has said it believes that elections should follow a reconciliation process between itself and Fatah, including a restructuring of the P.L.O. to include Hamas, which is currently excluded.
The authority’s announcement on national elections said: “We call upon all parties to set aside their reservations and disagreements. Let us work together to hold elections and uphold the will of the Palestinian people. As for differences and disagreements, whether in political or security matters, we believe that these issues could be resolved by the coming elected Legislative Council.”
In explaining his resignation as chief peace negotiator, Mr. Erekat said that the leak to Al Jazeera television last month of some 1,600 documents — minutes and e-mails — from the negotiations had come from his department and that he bore responsibility for the embarrassment they caused. The leaks showed Mr. Erekat and fellow negotiators making more far-reaching offers than were publicly known regarding the yielding of land to Israel in East Jerusalem and on other divisive issues, like the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is today Israel.
A member of the P.L.O. executive committee who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that there was unhappiness with Mr. Erekat, especially after the leaks were exposed, and that he was leaving because of it. Mr. Erekat has been a part of the negotiating team for nearly two decades.
Other Palestinian officials said there were no negotiations to lead and blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
“I think this resignation makes a point that we don’t believe Netanyahu has any intention of accepting the minimum of what had been agreed to before,” Nabil Shaath, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said in a telephone interview. “We want a total end of building settlements, including in East Jerusalem.”
In reaction to Mr. Erekat’s announcement, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, said the resignation was proof that negotiations and peaceful efforts with Israel were a failure, and added that the Palestinian Authority should “cease all types of coordination with the Zionist enemy.”
Khaled Abu Aker contributed reporting from Ramallah, and Fares Akram from Gaza.