- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Agence France-Presse) — Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas insisted yesterday that the first Palestinian parliamentary elections in nine years will go ahead as scheduled this July, despite calls from his own aides for a delay.

Mr. Abbas — who is to meet with President Bush in two weeks — “denied any plans to delay the elections,” in an interview, the London-based daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported yesterday.

His remarks came after the Islamic militant group Hamas, which is contesting the legislative elections for the first time and is the main challenger to Mr. Abbas’ dominant Fatah faction, rejected any postponement.

Fears are mounting within Fatah that Hamas could capitalize on recent successes in local elections and carve out a major role in the new parliament at Fatah’s expense.

One of Mr. Abbas’ senior aides, Tayeb Abdelrahim, said Thursday he believed there were convincing reasons for a delay, including the time required to formalize various amendments to the electoral law.

Several Palestinian officials also suggested in interviews with The Washington Times this week that the vote could be delayed in the face of a strong showing by Hamas in the local elections.

“I cannot say so with 100 percent certainty, but it looks like they will be delayed,” Qadura Fares, a former Cabinet minister who represents Ramallah in parliament, told The Times.

“It will be difficult to hit the July 17 date,” said Ahmed Ghneim, a Fatah leader who is the deputy Palestinian Authority minister in charge of more than 200 municipal districts.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom also told The Times this week that he favored a halt to the planned pullout from Gaza scheduled to start in August if Hamas gained control of the Palestinian parliament.

Mr. Abbas yesterday criticized the remark, warning such a stance could risk the fragile truce.

“Israel is calling for democracy when such comments are contrary to democracy,” Mr. Abbas said. “Hamas is naturally evolving into a political party and will stand in the elections and take part in government.”

The Palestinian leader is to hold talks in Washington with Mr. Bush on May 26, a member of his entourage said from Chile, where Mr. Abbas was paying an official visit.

However, White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to confirm the visit or the date.

If the Abbas-Bush meeting goes ahead it will be the first trip to the White House by a Palestinian Authority president since Mr. Bush took office in January 2001. His administration boycotted Mr. Abbas’ predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Abbas last met Mr. Bush at the White House in July 2003 when he was Mr. Arafat’s prime minister.

Mr. Abbas has signaled he will ask Washington to pressure Israel to adhere to the “road map” peace plan and seek economic aid.

His visit is likely to cement his growing rapprochement with the Bush administration, which has congratulated him on his pledge to crack down on violence and for invigorating the peace process with “activism.”

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