West Bank- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he would hold elections as planned in January unless Hamas agreed to an Egyptian reconciliation deal that would delay the polls until June.
Our Basic Law stipulates that elections must be held before January 24th, 2010, Abbas told a news conference after meeting Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
According to the Egyptian document, elections should be held on 28th of June 2010. If there is an agreement (with Hamas) we will abide by it, but if there is no agreement we will abide by the Basic Law, Abbas said.
Abbas's aides have made similar statements but the Western-backed leader's comments, voiced while Hamas continued to weigh Cairo's proposal, marked the first time he has said publicly he would order January polls in the absence of a deal.
Egypt has been trying for more than a year to close the wide rift between Abbas's secular Fatah faction and Islamist Hamas, which won a parliamentary election in 2006 and took over the Gaza Strip in a brief Palestinian civil war in 2007.
Under the proposed reconciliation, a committee of Palestinian factions would act as a liaison between the Fatah-dominated government in the West Bank and Hamas, and a joint police force would be formed.
While likely to be welcomed by many Palestinians, such Fatah-Hamas cooperation could pose a problem for Israel and the United States, which has been pressing Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resume peace negotiations.
Hamas opposes the talks, suspended since December, and has rejected Western demands to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace deals.
Egypt has invited Fatah and Hamas to attend a ceremony on October 24-26 in Cairo, where they were expected to sign a reconciliation pact.
But Hamas asked last week for a postponement, citing Abbas's agreement under U.S. pressure to back the deferral by the U.N. Human Rights Council of a vote on a report that accused Israel of war crimes during Israel's December-January Gaza offensive.
The report, by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, also said Hamas militants, who carried out cross-border rocket attacks on communities in Israel, committed war crimes.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Ramallah and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Matthew Jones)