RAMALLAH, West Bank – The Palestinian parliamentary election set for July should be postponed, a senior Palestinian official said in an interview published Thursday, another sign that the ruling Fatah Party (search) is deeply worried about the electoral prospects of militant Islamic groups.
The election, only the second in the 11 years since the Palestinian Authority (search) was founded, is scheduled for July 17, but Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search), called for a delay.
It was the strongest indication yet that Abbas might postpone the election, despite a promise to Hamas to hold the vote on time. Hamas quickly rejected the call.
Fatah activists have warned Abbas the party is headed for defeat if it goes to elections in July. Polls show Palestinian voters are fed up with corruption and inefficiency in the Palestinian government, dating to the rule of Yasser Arafat, who died last November. Without Arafat's charisma and standing, Abbas could lead his Fatah Party to a poor showing, further eroding his credibility and ability to rein in militants.
Fatah leaders say their they have a better chance if the election is held after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza this summer — something Abbas can claim as an achievement — and after a party convention in August would usher some younger, reform-minded candidates into key positions.
Hamas, which gained more ground in local elections last week, insists Abbas stick to the election date, part of a truce deal the two sides negotiated in March.
Abdel Rahim told the Al Quds daily in an interview published Thursday that for now, no decision has been made to postpone the vote, but that there are "legal, political and national reasons" to do so.
He noted that the Palestinian parliament, controlled by Fatah, has not yet passed a new election law it has been debating for several months. "That makes it difficult to conduct elections on time," he said.
Palestinians elected their current parliament in January 1995 under terms of an interim peace deal with Israel. Palestinians have tried to schedule new elections several times but canceled the voting, explaining that free elections could not be held with Israeli troops in control of the roads and towns.
The senior Hamas figure in the West Bank, Hassan Yousef, rejected that argument. He noted that in January, Palestinians held an election to replace the late Yasser Arafat, and there have been two rounds of local elections. "I don't see what has changed now," Yousef told The Associated Press.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned that attempts to postpone the voting "might affect Palestinian relations."
Hamas and other militant groups agreed to Abbas' Feb. 8 cease-fire with Israel, but Hamas has frequently threatened to break the truce if its conditions are not met, including holding the election on time.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Palestinian militant groups might not maintain the current truce after Israel completes its withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank in the summer, according to Army Radio.
"I don't think that all of Israel's problems will be solved after the pullout," said Sharon, speaking at an independence day reception at the president's official residence. A truce declared Feb. 8 drastically reduced the level of violence after more than four years of bloodshed.