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NY TImes: Palestinians to Hold Elections in September
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Posted on February 12, 2011


JERUSALEM -- The Palestinian leadership announced Saturday that it planned to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by September, an apparent 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 chairman of the P.L.O.

At the same meeting, Saeb Erekat, the longstanding 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 that 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 governed the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority announced postponed local elections until July, a move that Hamas also rejected.

Saturday'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 hundreds of documents -- minutes and e-mails -- from the negotiations had come from his department and 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 yielding land to Israel in East Jerusalem and on such other divisive issues as the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is today Israel.

One member of the P.L.O. executive committee who spoke on condition of anonymity said there was unhappiness with Mr. Erekat, especially after the leaks were exposed, and that was why he was leaving. No one deserves life tenure in such a job, the member said. Other Palestinian officials said there were no negotiations to head 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," said Nabil Shaath, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, 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 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.


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