Palestinian leaders call for elections

The Palestinian
leadership announced Saturday that it planned to hold presidential and
parliamentary elections by September, apparently a response to the revolts in
Tunisia and Egypt calling for greater democracy and government accountability.

The decision was
announced in the West Bank city of Ramallah after a meeting of the executive
committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which oversees the
Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority,
is also the chairman of the PLO.

At the same meeting,
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator with Israel, submitted his
resignation and Mr. Abbas accepted it. A subcommittee was formed to look for a
successor as well as to consider restructuring the negotiations unit.

The Islamist Hamas
faction rejected the plan for national elections, saying Mr. Abbas had no
legitimacy to call for them since he was serving beyond his term.

The Palestinians have
not held elections since 2006, when Hamas won a majority in the parliament,
leading to a year and a half of uneasy power sharing and a brief civil war in
June 2007. Since then, Hamas has governed Gaza and the Fatah-dominated
Palestinian Authority has controlled the West Bank.

The Palestinian
Authority announced that postponed local elections would be held in July, a
move that Hamas also rejected.

Hamas has said it
believes that elections should follow a reconciliation process between itself
and Fatah, including a restructuring of the PLO to include Hamas, which is
currently excluded.

The authority’s
announcement on national elections said: “We call upon all parties to set aside
their reservations and disagreements. Let us work together to hold elections
and uphold the will of the Palestinian people. As for differences and
disagreements, whether in political or security matters, we believe that these
issues could be resolved by the coming elected Legislative Council.”

In explaining his
resignation as chief peace negotiator, Mr. Erekat said that the leak to Al Jazeera
television last month of some 1,600 documents — minutes and emails — from the
negotiations had come from his department and that he bore responsibility for
the embarrassment they caused. The leaks showed Mr. Erekat and fellow
negotiators making more far-reaching offers than were publicly known regarding
the yielding of land to Israel in East Jerusalem and on other divisive issues,
like the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is
today Israel.

A member of the PLO
executive committee who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that there was
unhappiness with Mr. Erekat, especially after the leaks were exposed, and that
he was leaving because of it. Mr. Erekat has been a part of the negotiating
team for nearly two decades.

Other Palestinian
officials said there were no negotiations to lead and blamed Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

“I think this
resignation makes a point that we don’t believe Netanyahu has any intention of
accepting the minimum of what had been agreed to before,” Nabil Shaath, a
member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said in a telephone interview. “We
want a total end of building settlements, including in East Jerusalem.”

In reaction to Mr.
Erekat’s announcement, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, said the
resignation was proof that negotiations and peaceful efforts with Israel were a
failure, and added that the Palestinian Authority should “cease all types of
coordination with the
Zionist enemy.”