By Mariam Karouny
CAIRO (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday he would issue a decree on Sunday to hold elections by January 24, a move that could raise pressure on Hamas to sign an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal.
Egypt has been trying for more than a year to close a rift between Abbas’s secular Fatah party and Islamist Hamas, which won a parliamentary election in 2006 and took over the Gaza Strip in a brief Palestinian civil war in 2007.
“Based on the constitution, we are obliged to issue a decree on October 25 to hold presidential and parliamentary elections before January 24, and we will issue it,” Abbas said after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.
Abbas had said last week that he would hold elections as planned in January unless Hamas agreed to the reconciliation deal, which would delay the polls until June.
Analysts say Abbas would not be able to hold full elections in both Gaza and the West Bank without a deal with Hamas, which has vowed to block voting in Gaza if the ballot was scheduled without its agreement.
“He (Abbas) is just maneuvering and exerting pressure,” said Hasan Nafaa, political science professor at Cairo University.
“If he holds the elections without Hamas, he will be the ruler of the West Bank only, and therefore he will decrease his legitimacy as a president of the Palestinian Authority.”
Egypt had invited Fatah and Hamas to attend a ceremony later this month in Cairo to sign the reconciliation pact.
But Hamas asked for a postponement and said it was angered after Abbas’s government approved a U.N. decision to delay action on the so-called Goldstone report, which accuses Hamas and Israel of war crimes in Gaza but is most critical of the Jewish state.
Abbas, who has said his government erred in approving the delay, has reversed course and the issue was being reconsidered at a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, which he requested.
Abbas accused Hamas on Tuesday of using his government’s initial support for the report’s delay as a pretext to reject the Egyptian brokered unity deal, but he left the door open for reconciliation.
“The reconciliation is sacred for us. We cannot shut the doors and say we do not want to reconcile. We cannot say that, because we want to restore the unity of our people and restore the unity of our land in order to face the occupation and the political process,” he said.
Under the proposed reconciliation, a committee of Palestinian groups would act as a liaison between the Fatah-dominated government in the West Bank and Hamas, and a joint police force would be formed.
(Writing by Mariam Karouny; editing by Samia Nakhoul)