'No Chance' of Postponing Palestinian Elections, Official Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Despite tremendous internal and international pressure on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, there is "no chance" that parliamentary elections will be postponed, a senior P.A. official said on Tuesday.

Some senior P.A. officials are reportedly pressuring Abbas to postpone elections, fearful of a large Hamas victory.

Both the European Union and the U.S. House of Representatives have turned up the heat in the last few days, threatening to cut financial aid if Hamas wins big in parliamentary elections, as it is expected to do.

And last week's successful democratic elections in Iraq have put Abbas under even more pressure to hold the elections on time on January 25.

Hamas made a surprisingly strong showing in municipal elections in the West Bank last week, while the younger generation of the ruling Fatah party broke away to form its own faction, further weakening Abbas.

Press reports from the Middle East on Tuesday said that Abbas would travel to Egypt later this week, to confer with the Egyptians about postponing the elections.

And the Jerusalem Post reported that Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman may travel to the West Bank this week to discuss the upcoming elections and the possibility of extending militant groups' unofficial ceasefire with Israel. Suleiman was instrumental in negotiating the initial "period of calm" agreement last year.

The P.A. minister in charge of negotiations, Saeb Erekat, said there is "no chance" that elections would be postponed. "The worst thing is to [postpone the elections]," said Erekat. "It would create more problems."

Erekat said postponing the elections would push the Palestinians into a situation like that in Algeria, where the ruling party postponed elections in the 1990s, fearing victory by an Islamic extremist party. But the postponement set off a decade-long insurgency that left more than 100,000 people dead.

Some Israeli analysts believe that Abbas is looking for a way to postpone the elections and that he will probably try to blame Israel for it.

Reserve Brig.-Gen. Shalom Harari said the P.A. has been thinking about the possibility of postponing the elections for two months.

"[There] is now a very big hidden effort [to determine] how to postpone the elections [and] throw the blame for postponing [them] on Israel," said Harari, who served as a senior Defense Ministry advisor on Palestinian Affairs.

The P.A. already is preparing the public for a delay. But whether or not the elections are postponed, Israel would receive the brunt of the reaction -- more violence, he said.

Even if the elections are not postponed, if the go ahead as planned, Fatah will lose and Hamas would make substantial gains, Harari predicted. Either way, Israel would pay with a rise in terrorist attacks, he added.

According to Israeli military intelligence, Hamas believes that after the elections, popular Palestinian support for terrorist attacks would increase, giving Hamas the Palestinian backing it needs to accelerate such attacks.

Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal, who met recently with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he backs Ahmadinejad's remarks questioning the Holocaust.

According to Harari, the close ties between Hamas and Tehran are nothing new, but they are getting more coverage, given the Iranian leader's vocal anti-Israel agenda.

Meanwhile, P.A. security sources reportedly thwarted a rocket attack on the Israeli city of Ashkelon on Tuesday morning. They said they detained a cell on its way to launch rockets from the former Gaza Strip settlement of Dugit. Rockets launched from the former Jewish community landed in the outskirts of Ashkelon earlier this week.

And Palestinian militants fired a rocket from the Gaza Strip that landed in southern Israel overnight.

The Israeli Air Force responded by targeting access routes used by the Palestinian terrorists to reach open areas used for launching rockets; and the army fired artillery shells at launching sites.

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