RAMALLAH, West Bank, AP – Palestinian parties launched their election campaign with banners and rallies Tuesday, amid growing tensions between the Islamic militant group Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas over his suggestion to postpone the Jan. 25 parliamentary vote.
Abbas said for the first time Monday that the vote could be put off if Israel bars Palestinians from voting in the sector of Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinians as a future capital.
Hamas, which is expected to make a strong showing in its first general election, insisted Tuesday that the vote take place on schedule. It is unlikely Abbas would put off the election without Hamas consent.
The start of the campaign was overshadowed by anarchy in Gaza and renewed Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Late Monday, an Israeli airstrike killed two members of the militant Islamic Jihad group who Israel said were involved in rocket attacks on Israel. The two were in a car when it was struck by a missile. A third occupant of the car was wounded, along with two bystanders, hospital officials said. Islamic Jihad threatened revenge.
In the West Bank, Jewish settlers threw eggs and a chemical substance at Israeli soldiers who distributed eviction notices to eight Israeli squatter families. The squatters had taken over a Palestinian market area in the city of Hebron four years ago and were given two weeks to leave the area. One police officer was hurt.
Also Tuesday, the Israeli military said the large Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit on the West Bank-Israel frontier is illegally building homes on what appears to be private Palestinian land. The settlement was ordered last week to halt construction, but has failed to do so, military officials said.
The Palestinian election campaign started Tuesday, with parties posting banners in the streets and holding rallies. “Islam is the solution” and “One hand resists and one hand builds” read some of the Hamas signs.
The top Hamas candidate, Ismail Haniyeh, told reporters in Gaza that the election must not be postponed under any circumstances, despite growing pressure by Abbas’ Fatah Party to put off the vote.
“We have told them (Fatah) that postponing the election will lead to a vacuum and to a dark future,” Haniyeh said. “Postponing the election is not the solution. We urged them (Fatah) to go ahead with the election.”
On Monday, Abbas complained that Israel is balking at allowing Jerusalem’s Palestinians to participate. “We all agree that Jerusalem should be included in the elections,” Abbas said in Doha, Qatar. “If it is not included, all the factions agree there should be no elections.”
There are other reasons. Fatah, reeling from internal squabbles, fears an election fiasco. Also, armed gangs, mostly from Fatah itself, are causing mayhem in Gaza, calling into question whether orderly elections can be held.
An Israeli ban on Jerusalem voting would make a convenient excuse for delaying the vote, but Israeli officials say they don’t want to take the blame and are looking for a compromise. One official called the Jerusalem issue a technical issue that could be resolved.
U.S. envoys were to discuss the issue with Israeli officials later this week.
In the 1996 parliamentary election and again a year ago, when Abbas was elected to succeed the late Yasser Arafat, east Jerusalem’s Palestinians were permitted to vote by absentee ballot in post offices. Israel says interim peace accords ban Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem.
The new factor is Hamas participation. Israel objects, noting Hamas responsibility for dozens of deadly suicide bombings and its charter calling for Israel’s destruction.
On Tuesday, police detained Mustafa Barghouti, an independent candidate, during a campaign rally at the Damascus gate of Jerusalem’s walled Old City. On Monday, authorities broke up a political gathering of Fatah supporters in Jerusalem but made no arrests, police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. A participant in the meeting, Ahmed Ghneim, called the raid “the beginning of the battle for the elections in Jerusalem.”
Abbas, meanwhile, is touring Gulf states, trying to raise money to make up a serious budget shortfall. The appeal to the Arab nations followed a decision by Western donors to freeze funding until the Palestinians carry out promised reforms.
“We are in desperate need of Arab aid,” said Salam Fayyad, who recently stepped down as finance minister in order to run for parliament.
Fayyad said international aid has helped cover about one-third of a $1 billion deficit in the 2005 budget, but Arab states have not fulfilled their pledges.