GAZA,(Reuters) – The ruling Hamas militant group on Tuesday delayed a parliamentary showdown with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over his call for a referendum on statehood, saying it wanted to allow more time for dialogue.
Tensions have escalated between Abbas’s Fatah movement and Hamas since the president set a referendum for July 26 on a proposal for statehood that implicitly recognises Israel. Some fear their violent power struggle could lead to civil war.
Hamas had said it would submit a motion in parliament on Tuesday seeking to declare the referendum illegal. But senior Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri said negotiators from Hamas and Fatah should be given more time to reach a deal on changes to the proposal. Abbas has said the vote would be cancelled if the rivals agreed on the document.
“We want to give the ongoing dialogue a chance to succeed,” Masri said, without saying if Hamas had set a deadline for lodging the parliamentary motion.
Spokesmen for both Hamas and Fatah have expressed optimism that recent days of talks would resolve the impasse over the manifesto drawn up by Palestinian prisoners in an Israel jail. But key sticking points remain.
Hamas has said it wants the proposal to explicitly reject recognition of Israel. Abbas, a moderate who favours peace talks with the Jewish state, is unlikely to agree to such wording.
“The Hamas movement rejects anything that signals recognition of the legitimacy of the occupation,” Masri said.
Hamas, which is sworn to destroy Israel, brands the referendum an attempt to overthrow its three-month-old government. The group beat Fatah in parliamentary elections.
Some in Fatah see the referendum as a way to oust the government and reverse a Western aid embargo that has brought the Palestinian Authority to the brink of collapse.
The West imposed sanctions after Hamas refused to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace accords. But in a blow to Abbas, a leading pollster said on Monday that Palestinians might not pass the referendum even though they support the proposal because they are unhappy with the president’s power struggle with the government.
The prisoner’s document calls for a Palestinian state in all the West Bank and Gaza Strip, land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.