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Abbas Waves Sword of Referendum to Press Hamas
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Threatening a possible referendum if Hamas does not agree to a proposal on making peace with Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was in a fresh round of tryout to press Hamas to change its political stance, analysts said.

"The prisoners' document was like the rescue ribbon for Abbas to extend the pressure on Hamas government," Nafez al-Madhoun, an academic close to Abbas' Fatah movement, said on Monday.

"Do you know what it means if a referendum is held in the Palestinian territories?" asked Madhoun.

"It means an early election."

At a national dialogue meeting on May 25, Abbas announced that he would order a referendum within 40 days if factions including Hamas within 10 days fail to agree to the National Accordance, a proposal that implicitly accepts Israel's right to exist.

The proposal, made by Palestinian prisoners in an Israeli jail earlier this month, calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war, including the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.

Hamas has been committed to Israel's destruction since it emerged some 20 years ago. It refuses to change its political charter even after the militant faction controled the Palestinian parliament and government, ending long dominance by Fatah, which is currently led by Abbas.

Since Hamas formed its government in late March, disputes between the government and the President never cease, with armed clashes erupted in the Gaza Strip between rival militants affiliated to Hamas and Fatah respectively.

Abbas, who repeatedly calls on Hamas to moderate its stance toward Israel in order to push the long stalled peace process, is pressing Hamas to decide "either to accept Abbas' conditions and agree to the prisoners' document or to face a referendum," said Madhoun.

"Abbas is a very smart leader. He was the most enthusiastic Palestinian to hold the January election on time, although he knew that his weak Fatah movement might be defeated in the election," Madhoun continued.

"But Abbas would never leave the situation like this until he tames Hamas movement," said the academic, referring to the idea of holding referendum.

After Hamas won the parliamentary election on Jan. 25 and thus was given the mandate to form a new government, Abbas has been trying to persuade Hamas to respect all the previous commitments made by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), including those signed with Israel.

As Hamas is a group advocating Israel's destruction, Abbas skipped the idea of persuading Hamas to recognize Israel, turning to press Hamas to accept the Arab peace initiative agreed on the Arab Summit held in Lebanon in 2002.

However, contrary to Abbas' wishes, Hamas insisted that it would neither recognize the state of Israel nor accept previous commitments.

Hamas' hardline policy incurred anger of Israel and dissatisfaction of donor countries, mainly the United States and the European Union (EU), which cut off badly needed aids to the PNA and adopted isolation policy towards the Hamas-led government.

Israel also severed all contacts with Hamas government and tightened its security measures on passages and crossings in the Palestinian territories.

Cutting off direct aid disabled the Hamas government to pay overdue salaries for some 160,000 government servants ever since March.

Despite the dual plights in political and economic fronts, the Hamas government did not lose the support of the Palestinians and showed little sign of flexibility in its political stance.

"Abbas, Israel, the United States and the donors are still unable to break the steadfastness of the new government," said Riyad Abu Jalhoom, a Palestinian academic from Gaza.

"Instead of weakening this government, they (Abbas, Israel and the international community) are popularly strengthening it," said Abu Jalhoom.

Meanwhile, Abu Jalhoom believed that the Hamas government should find a way out of the crisis from which the Palestinians who voted in favor of Hamas in the election are suffering.

The proposal, which was submitted by imprisoned leaders of national and Islamic Palestinian factions, mainly Fatah Secretary General Marwah Barghouti and senior Hamas leader Abdel Majid al- Natsheh, came as a bid to end the crisis facing the Palestinians.

The proposal also accepts the Arab peace initiative of 2002 and calls for forming a coalition government on the base of recognition of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinians.

In response to the referendum call, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza told Xinhua on telephone that the referendum still needs a legal cover, as the president is not authorized by the law to order referendum.

"Any referendum means turning down the legitimacy and results of January election," Abu Zuhri added.

The latest polls conducted in the West Bank showed that 80 percent among the Palestinians would vote for the two states solution, which is based on honoring the Arab peace initiative and recognizing the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians.

In order to avoid holding such a referendum, Hamas leaders has asserted that they are likely to accept 90 percent of the document and leaving the rest to be resolved through dialogue.

(Xinhua News Agency May 30, 2006)

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