RAMALLAH, West Bank, (AP) – Palestinian elections will go ahead this fall regardless of whether the Islamic Hamas participates, an aide to the Palestinian president said Wednesday.
Yasser Abed Rabbo’s statement means presidential and parliamentary elections might take place only in the West Bank, as Hamas has refused to allow elections in the Gaza Strip.
“We can’t be held hostage by Hamas and remain without elections,” Abed Rabbo said.
The Palestinians’ West Bank government announced over the weekend that the long-delayed vote would take place by September. The move was seen as a response to widespread Mideast protests against autocratic regimes that have toppled longtime dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.
Hamas won the last parliamentary elections in 2006, but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the Hamas-led Cabinet after Hamas overran Gaza the following year, expelling forces loyal to Abbas.
Abbas’ term expired a year ago, but he has consistently held off scheduling new elections because of turmoil inside his Fatah Party and the growing strength of Hamas in the West Bank.
This week Abbas dismissed his Cabinet and asked Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to form a new one with more Fatah representation, a move to strengthen his party ahead of the elections.
Hamas officials in Gaza rejected Abed Rabbo’s statement Wednesday.
“We will not participate and we will not give any legitimacy to these elections,” said Fawzi Barhoum. “We will not recognize its results. Any elections without Gaza and before reconciliation will be illegitimate and unconstitutional.”
Long-running diplomatic efforts to reconcile Hamas and Fatah have failed to forge an agreement.
If elections are held only in the West Bank, it could widen the gaps between the two rivals. Palestinians seek both territories for their future state, but internal divisions are seen as an obstacle to fulfilling that goal.