Palestinian Election in Question as Leaders Meet

Jerusalem, Feb. 15 – Palestinian leaders were meeting in Qatar Sunday as the clock continued to tick towards their self-imposed May deadline for long-overdue elections.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal were in Doha to try to push forward the stalled reconciliation between the radical Hamas and Abbas’s more mainstream Fatah Party. The two sides first met in May, 2011 in a bid to end their split and lay the ground for a national-unity government.

The Palestinian leadership has been divided since the 2007 military coup in which Hamas, recognized by leading Western countries as a terrorist organization, seized control of the Gaza Strip leaving Abbas only in charge of the West Bank.

The two sides have failed to agree on a new interim prime minister and cabinet, and on confidence-building measures such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners held by either side.

"Holding elections needs a presidential decree as well as logistical and administrative preparations, which are quite impossible as long as the West Bank and Gaza remain divided under rival governments," said Essam Abu Daga, a senior leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in a Gulf News interview.

Despite claims by both sides that elections will be held on time, Hamas only allowed the Palestinian Central Elections Commission to reopen its Gaza office last week. However, the CEC says it needs months to update voter registration in Gaza. The commission said it can only start preparing the elections once Abbas issues an election declaration, at least three months before the ballot.

Abbas has effectively paralyzed peace talks with Israel in the shadow of his attempts at reconciliation with Hamas. He has repeatedly rejected Israel’s calls for an unconditional resumption of the stalled parley. A Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas would threaten the future of the peace process, because of Hamas’ official hardline position that rejects Israel’s existence.

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