Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told representatives of factions in the dialogue committee late Monday that he intends to announce a referendum on the prisoners' plan to establish a Palestinian nation next to Israel on the 1967 borders, thus recognizing the existence of the Zionist state, after negotiations with Hamas representatives failed.
“Abbas announced that he had no choice but to call a national referendum,” said Khalida Jarar, a representative of the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who participated in the discussions. Hanan Ashrawi confirmed that the sides failed to reach any last-minute agreement to avoid the referendum.
Leaders held last-ditch efforts to avert a crisis and reach an agreement before Abbas' ultimatum expired Tuesday morning. But since talks failed, the chairman will issue a presidential decree on Tuesday ordering that a referendum be held over the question within 40 days.
Earlier representatives of Hamas and other factions held intensive rounds of talks with Abbas aides in an attempt to prevent the Palestinian leader from declaring a referendum over the peace plan.
In a sign of their eagerness to prevent the deadlock over the proposal from sliding the Palestinian Authority into violent street clashes between rival factions, Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas attended a series of key meetings Monday afternoon.
Haniyeh held talks with senior Abbas aides in the Gaza Strip while Abbas attended the national dialogue conference in Ramallah, where delegates of various Palestinian factions discussed the prisoners' proposal. Abbas sent former prime minister and Fatah strongman Ahmed Qurei to Damascus for talks with Hamas' politburo Khaled Mashaal.
At the conclusion of a meeting with EU Envoy Javier Solana Monday, Abbas stressed that the deadline for the factions' decision would not be postponed.
Meanwhile, eyewitnesses in Gaza reported Sunday morning of a massive deployment of Hamas' special force in the streets, although government officials claimed this was merely routine activity.
Tensions continued to run high in Gaza Monday following the deaths of four people in two separate fire exchange incidents between Hamas and Fatah forces that took place Sunday night.