Palestinian Authority chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is pushing the internal Palestinian situation towards a dangerous and unnecessary crisis. He has called a referendum supposedly to gain public endorsement for a document written by Hamas and Fatah members held in Israeli jails which calls for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in all the territories occupied in 1967. But Abbas’ ploy has nothing to do with hastening the creation of such a state, and everything to do with Fatah’s inability to come to terms with its defeat in last January’s legislative elections.
Without consulting PA prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, Abbas announced that Hamas would have ten days to accept the prisoners’ document without any changes or he would call a referendum. Hamas made clear that it views the referendum as illegal. Palestinian law makes no provision for referendums, and only the legislative council, in which Hamas has a huge majority, can amend the law. No matter; Abbas, like President Bush, can seem to find powers to do anything he wants as the need arises. Following the collapse of talks between Hamas and Fatah on June 5, Abbas announced that he would go ahead with the referendum by “presidential decree.” The next morning he announced a three-day extension of his deadline to allow for “dialogue,” but made clear that Hamas had to take or leave the document as is.