Abbas confirms referendum on Palestinian statehood

RAMALLAH - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will call a referendum on a statehood proposal that implicitly recognizes Israel after last-ditch talks with the Hamas government foundered, his office said.

The referendum, expected in July, will be seen as a confidence vote in the new government and its policy of refusing to recognize Israel, which has led Western countries to impose crippling economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas had given the Hamas Islamic militants until midnight to embrace a manifesto drawn up by prisoners in an Israeli jail.

Hamas has rejected the document, which implicitly recognizes Israel by calling for a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, and said a referendum would be illegal, setting the stage for a showdown with Abbas.

Abbas would set the date for the referendum after meeting the executive committee of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Tuesday, his office said in a statement, carried by the Palestinian WAFA news agency.

"In light of recent contacts, President Abbas will decide the date of the referendum after a meeting of the PLO executive committee," the statement said.

Khalida Jarar, a lawmaker from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told reporters after factions held talks with Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah late on Monday that he felt he had no option but to call the referendum.

Jarar said Abbas also held a 70-minute phone conversation with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on the proposal, which she said also ended without agreement. Haniyeh is a senior Hamas leader.

Abbas made no comment after leaving the Ramallah meeting but had previously threatened to hold the referendum in July.

Hamas has slammed any talk of a referendum so soon after it beat Abbas's Fatah movement in parliamentary elections in January. The Islamist militants took office in March and have been locked in a power struggle with Abbas ever since.

Cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Abbas's 10-day deadline for reaching agreement on the proposal was too short.

"A referendum on the document as it stands ... is rejected because it will further complicate the situation and deepen the crisis," Hamad said.

Abbas, a moderate, stunned Hamas late last month by giving the group an ultimatum to back the manifesto or face a referendum that many analysts expect to pass.

The most Hamas has proposed is a long term truce if Israel gives up the West Bank and East Jerusalem, far short of meeting the demands of Israel or Western countries.

Israel rejects the prisoner's proposal. It has long insisted on keeping large Jewish settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank.

Hamas seeks to destroy Israel and has rejected Abbas's calls to hold talks with the Jewish state.

Abbas was elected by a landslide in early 2005 in a ballot Hamas did not contest.


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