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Hamas not to run in Palestinian election
Hamas will not participate in January's election to replace Yasir Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority, the movement's leader in the Gaza Strip has said.
"The presidential election is illegal," Mahmud Zahhar told reporters as he entered talks with the new head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation Mahmud Abbas.
"This election is a continuation of the Oslo process which has already failed and is finished."
The announcement had been widely expected as Hamas has consistently rejected the 1993 Oslo Accords, which paved the way for the creation of the Palestinian Authority.
The smaller movement Islamic Jihad had confirmed on Monday that it would not contest the election slated for 9 January.
The decision by Hamas is a major boost to Abbas' hopes of being voted in as a replacement for Arafat who won the first and only presidential election in 1996.
Boost for Abbas
The dominant Fatah faction is understood to have agreed on Abbas as its candidate in the election but faces opposition from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades which has chosen Marwan al-Barguthi.
While polls show that Fatah remains the most popular of the Palestinian parties, its support has been eroded in recent years amid growing disillusionment at the performance of Arafat's administration.
Some polls have shown that Hamas now enjoys more popularity than Fatah in Gaza.
Ismail Haniya, another senior member of the organisation in Gaza, told Aljazeera that Hamas sought elections that would secure the rights of Palestinians
"The forthcoming elections would only bring the same leadership of the Palestinian Authority that signed the Oslo Accords and accepted the so-called road map peace plan.
"We seek to have elections that would enhance Palestinian national unity, and the election of a leadership that would strive to restore Palestinian rights, end the occupation of our lands and secure the right of Palestinians to return to their homes," he said.
Aljazeera + Agencies
GAZA, Nov. 16 (Xinhuanet) -- A senior representative of the Islamic Resistance movement (Hamas) called on Tuesday to hold general elections together with the presidential elections in January.Mahmoud Azzahar made the remarks after a two-hour meeting withthe PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen.
"The presidential elections are divided and illegal and shouldbe held with general elections," Azzahar said.
"Holding only presidential elections is a continuation of the Oslo agreement that Hamas rejects and which is over and expired,"Azzahar said.
However, Azzahar noted that Hamas reached agreements with Abu Mazen to "continue meetings in the future and prepare working papers until a unified position is achieved to save the Palestinian people from the coming dangerous stage."
The presidential elections were scheduled to take place on Jan.9, 2005, which would choose a leader to formally succeed the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died on Nov. 11 in a military hospital outside Paris.
The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) Speaker Rawhi Fattouh was named as the interim Palestinian National Authority (PNA) president until the elections.
Hamas rejects calls from Abbas to halt attacks
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Islamic militant groups behind many suicide bombings dismissed on Tuesday a call from interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to halt attacks in the run-up to a Jan. 9 election to replace Yasser Arafat.
Abbas, who is trying to work out a deal with rival Palestinian groups on a cease-fire and possible power-sharing, resisted a call by the groups for a share of power despite their planned boycott of the Jan. 9 election.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not accept the presence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. They refuse to take part in governments formed as a result of agreements with Israel and say they will not participate in the election.
However, the two movements, responsible for hundreds of deadly attacks against Israelis in four years of violence, are demanding a leadership role outside the electoral process. They want a "unified leadership" that would exert influence on the Palestinian government.
Abbas was cool to the idea and recommended instead that even if they skip the presidential race, the radical groups try their hand in parliamentary elections to be held at an unspecified later date. He is said to be proposing parliamentary and local elections four or five months after the vote.
The only other election held since the Palestinian Authority was established, in 1996, combined presidential and parliamentary voting, and the Islamic groups did not take part.
Abbas is also urging the radical groups to halt attacks against Israelis during the election campaign, said Ziad Abu Amr, a lawmaker participating in the talks,
"(Abbas) said the elections need security, stability and quiet," Abu Amr said. "There is no possibility to conduct elections while we are in a situation of war and conflict."
Hamas leaders dismissed the truce call. "This subject is not under discussion in Hamas," said Ismail Haniyeh, a leader if the Islamic group. Another leader, Mahmoud Zahar, said first Israel must stop its attacks, and then Hamas would consider how to respond.
Islamic Jihad leader Sheik Nafez Azzam said it was "too early" to consider a cease-fire. "The top priority is to confront the (Israeli) occupation and its aggression," he said.
Since Arafat's death on Thursday, Israel has scaled back its military operations, especially in the Gaza Strip, though nightly arrest raids continue in the West Bank.
Abbas served briefly as Palestinian prime minister in 2003 and succeeded in negotiating a unilateral Palestinian cease-fire that summer. However, it broke down after six weeks in a flurry of Palestinian attacks and Israeli counterstrikes.
Abbas, 69, is the leading candidate in the race to replace Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority, but he won't run unopposed. Younger members of his Fatah movement favor Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank Fatah leader serving five life terms in an Israeli prison. At least two independent candidates are considering running as well.
Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, considered a possible Arafat successor, took himself out of the race Tuesday, throwing his support to Abbas. The two are close allies.
"Abu Mazen could be the bridge between the past, the present and the future," Dahlan told reporters Tuesday in Gaza City, using Abbas' nickname.
European Union members are seeking ways to ensure the election is a success. A British diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Britain is paying for an adviser to help the Palestinians set up the elections.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who met Sunday with Abbas, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and Dahlan, "is convinced that the present leadership can organize elections in 60 days," said his spokeswoman, Christina Gallach.
Also Tuesday, an Israeli economist totaled up the cost of four years of violence to the two sides and came up with huge amounts — $12 billion for Israel and $4.5 billion for the Palestinians.
Danny Singerman, chief economist at the research firm Business Data Israel, said the Palestinian uprising cut the Palestinian GDP by about 30 percent and Israeli GDP by 10 percent.
In September, the United Nations said that three out of four Palestinians are living in poverty.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have again called for a unified leadership to be set up following Yasser Arafat's death.
Their call came at a meeting in Gaza with Mahmoud Abbas, who has replaced Arafat as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
The groups want to be part of a joint leadership until presidential elections scheduled for early January 2005.
For now, both groups are refusing to participate in the election.
They argue that the vote will only be used to install a leader associated with Mr Arafat's Fatah movement, which has always held the levers of Palestinian power.
The BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza says it is hard to see the Fatah leadership giving up any real decision-making power to the Islamic groups.
He says the levers of Palestinian political power have always been firmly in the hands of the faction that Yasser Arafat founded and led - the Fatah party.
Powerful Islamic movement
But the powerful Islamist movement, Hamas, and its sister party, Islamic Jihad, say that they should now be drawn into the power structure.
After the meeting with Mr Abbas, a spokesman for Hamas said that there would be further talks on the issue.
"We are insisting on the need for legislative and municipal elections in addition to the presidential poll," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zukhri.
"We are opposed to any monopoly on power."
Hamas is demanding that PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas alter the voting method used in the Palestinian Authority for elections to the Palestinian parliament.
Palestinian sources said Thursday that Hamas representatives are putting forth the demand after Abbas rejected their calls to hold parliamentary and local elections at the same time as elections for PA chairmanship. Abbas had said that that doing so was technically impossible, and said that parliamentary elections would be held in the middle of 2005.
The regional voting method, used in the 1996 elections, divided the Gaza Strip and West Bank into sixteen voting regions, each of which had a specified number of parliamentary seats. Hamas is requesting that the West Bank and Gaza Strip constitute one voting district, so that the the support the movement gained throughout the intifada be reflected on the parliamentary level.
Here's the dilemma: To hold elections for only the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, or for the parliament and the local governments, as well? These are not the options with which the Israeli government and the patrons of democratization everywhere are confronting the PA. It is a dilemma with which the PA representatives are now wrestling in their talks with the leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Surprisingly, it is Hamas of all groups that supports comprehensive elections - for both the presidency and the parliament. Islamic Jihad wants elections only for the local governments, while the temporary leaders of the PA want elections only for president. The gap between the approaches stems from each side's assessment of its political strength among the voters and its ideological readiness to take part in elections that are enshrined in the Oslo Accords - and, more important, from its desire to be part of a Palestinian government that will certainly have to conduct negotiations with Israel.
This is the reason for the Hamas demand for parliamentary elections: The organization will be able to gain an important political platform without being called upon to negotiate with Israel. On the other hand, if only presidential elections are held, Hamas will not be able to show its full strength and, if it supports such elections, it is liable to be perceived as being willing, already at this stage, to authorize the new president to enter into political negotiations with Israel. This is now the heart of the political struggle between the Palestinian groups and the PA. More important is the very intention and readiness of the representatives of the various streams to decide democratically (as a general rule, if one doesn't take account of the armed threats), by means of internal negotiations between them, the manner of participation in the future political game.
And here's another fact that should be noted: Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has been invited by Syrian President Bashir Assad to pay an official visit to Damascus next month. Assad is also the "host" of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaderships. If Syria decides to take Abu Mazen to heart, Hamas and Islamic Jihad will find it difficult to wage war against him.
The invitation to Abu Mazen should be a hint to Hezbollah and to the other organizations that see no point in negotiating with Israel. Because Abu Mazen's conception is well-known: He wants negotiations with Israel, he wants to cooperate with Israel and he wants to establish the Palestinian state now. Israel should not - and, indeed, cannot - intervene in this power game between the Palestinian groups and the PA and Arab states such as Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Israel could, of course, assassinate the last of the public leaders of Hamas, Mahmoud a-Zahar, who supports general elections, and thus put an end to the arguments.
But the new era could also be put at risk by "impeding" conditions that sound good but are impossible to fulfill, such as "first democracy and then negotiations," as Benjamin Netanyahu and President George W. Bush have suggested. A slogan like that might be useful as a bumper sticker or as a poster to hang from one's balcony. It can be an Israeli political condition only if Israel succeeds where many have tried and failed - to define the acceptable, ultimate Palestinian democracy that will accede to all of Israel's needs. That's because in that form of Palestinian democracy it will not be possible to discriminate against, say, the minority of Jewish settlers who will have to vote in the elections for the Palestinian parliament.
The idea sounds groundless, of course. But are those who are demanding democracy in Palestine willing to also define the borders of the Palestinian democratic state before they demand democracy? Or is the idea to create a virtual democracy and only then foist it on every bit of land that will be liberated? This is all only hairsplitting, because the Israelis (and the Americans) who are demanding democracy in the PA would do well to rub their eyes (with astonishment, as usual) and take note of what's happening: The Palestinians themselves are demanding their democracy. They are not waiting for Israel to force them.