PLO set to extend Abbas term as Palestinian leader

Arab World Materials 13 December 2009 17:40 (UTC +04:00)

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is expected to extend Mahmoud Abbas's term as president this week and back his call for a halt to Israeli settlement building before more peace talks.

The meeting of the PLO Central Council on Tuesday will remove any doubt over the fate of the presidency when Abbas's term expires on January 25 and back his opposition to U.S. calls for an immediate resumption of peace talks, according to an early draft of resolutions expected to emerge from the meeting, Reuters reported.

Members of the Central Council have been saying for weeks they expect to extend the term of Abbas, who has Western backing. According to the draft, he will stay in office until elections can be held, which requires agreement between the hostile Fatah and Hamas movements.

Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, had called elections for January 24. But a ban by Hamas on participation in the Gaza Strip led to the cancellation of the vote.

"President Abu Mazen and all the institutions of the Palestinian National Authority will continue their work and shoulder their responsibilities ... until the holding of elections," read the draft obtained by Reuters.

Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, does not recognize Abbas's legitimacy as head of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. The Islamist group, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, opposes his strategy of seeking to negotiate a permanent peace deal.

Hamas said an extension of Abbas's term would be illegal and cement Palestinian divisions. "It indicates that Fatah is not interested in ending the divisions," Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, told Reuters.

An Egyptian proposal to promote reconciliation between the groups had called for presidential and legislative elections in June. Hamas has refused to sign it, citing reservations.

The PLO Central Council draft resolutions said elections must take place by June 28 -- the date set out in the Egyptian proposal -- and called for more efforts to end the split.