Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
announced on Monday that he has decided to delay the local elections for a third time, without setting a new date.
Palestinian democracy has been crippled since the Islamic militant Hamas violently overran
Gaza Strip in 2007, forming a rival government to President Abbas' West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
Abbas has overstayed his own term and is ruling the West Bank by decree. Municipal elections were initially scheduled for July 2010.
Abbas said Monday that he wanted to make sure elections take place in both Palestinian territories: "We have decided to postpone the local elections until better conditions are available… and to enable the election commission to work in all parts of the country," he said.
Abbas gave the same reason when he announced he was postponing the elections last time, from July 9 to October. 22. In the meantime, Hamas-Fatah talks on implementing a recent reconciliation pact
A senior Hamas
official in Gaza agreed that elections should not be held until the reconciliation deal takes effect.
"We agreed in the Cairo (reconciliation) agreement that all elections, local and parliamentary, would be held after forming the government," said the official, Ismail Alashkar. "We welcome Abbas' decree postponing them."
Analysts have said they think Abbas is afraid his Fatah movement would lose in the voting.
Municipal elections would have provided a first indication of the two movements' popularity. They would also have been the first balloting in the Palestinian territories since January 2006, when Hamas defeated Fatah.
The international community shunned the Hamas-led government because of the group's refusal to recognize Israel or renounce violence against it.
Hamas and Fatah then formed a short-lived joint government that failed to restore international financial aid and ultimately collapsed into heavy fighting that led to formation of the rival governments.