Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday that if the negotiations between the warring Palestinian factions fail to produce a genuine result by the end of the current year, he will call for a general election – meaning both for parliament and the presidency - in the Palestinian Authority in early 2009.
Abbas made the comments at a meeting held by the central committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which convened to discuss the political crisis in the PA and the schism between Fatah and Hamas.
Meanwhile most are expecting Hamas to appoint a president of its own in the Gaza Strip after ceasing to recognize Abbas. The Islamist group forcefully took control of the coastal enclave in June 2007.
President Abbas reiterated on Sunday that the Egyptian reconciliation proposal should serve as the foundation for a future agreement, this despite the fact that Hamas has withdrawn its representatives from the talks in Cairo.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum was quick to respond to Abbas statements. "His suggestion to immediately go to elections shows his intent to sabotage the dialogue," said Barhoum.
Abbas rejected Hamas' claim that the arrest of its operatives in the West Bank by PA forces is the cause for its refusal to continue the talks. He stressed that the Hamas men who were taken into custody were not detained because of their political affiliation, but rather for violating the law dictating that only PA troops are permitted to carry arms in the region.
"I didn't cave to the Israeli-American pressure (on permitting Hamas to participate in the elections), I am doing what is good for the Palestinian people," said Abbas, defending himself from an onslaught of accusations.
He also touched on the negotiations with Israel, saying that the PA "goes to the negotiations so that no one can claim we are not serious, and that we are not in favor of the talks."
Abbas said that the Palestinians would soon celebrate the release of 250 prisoners ahead of the upcoming Eid al-Adha holiday, as a goodwill gesture on Israel's part. The president said that he has demanded of the Israeli government to stop all settlement activity.
He stressed that the Palestinians were committed to peace and the two-state solution, saying that this was the case despite the fact that Israel has continued to build settlements and the separation barrier.