(Reuters) - President Mahmoud Abbas called elections on Friday, scheduling a presidential and parliamentary ballot for Palestinians by January 24, after rival factions failed to reach a unity deal in Egyptian-brokered talks.
Here are some questions and answers to explain why Abbas’ secular Fatah faction, which holds sway in the West Bank, and the Hamas Islamist group in control of the Gaza Strip failed to reach agreement on Cairo’s latest proposal:
Cairo had hoped a deal could be forged for Sunday, but as in previous rounds of negotiations, no agreement was reached.
On most issues, the groups are as far apart as they were when Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Abbas in 2007, politically splitting the Palestinian territories in two.
A key sticking point was the issue of elections, scheduled for January 2010. Egypt proposed delaying the vote until June, giving time for a joint committee to find middle ground on matters like security and reconstruction in the Gaza Strip after a devastating Israeli offensive earlier this year.
The proposal also banned all security forces outside the control of Abbas’ Western-backed Palestinian Authority and called for a 3,000-strong joint force to police Gaza until the elections.
Abbas signed the deal. The Fatah leader, who has been facing internal pressures, wanted to exhibit Palestinian unity at home and to the world. And logistically, holding elections without agreement would be nearly impossible.
Abbas was also reassured by the proposal control over the major Palestinian security apparatus.
But by signing the deal, Abbas stepped back a bit from his long-standing demand that Hamas first relinquish control of the Gaza Strip. Instead, he agreed to wait for the election outcome, a sign he is confident he will win any ballot.
Hamas did not sign the deal, saying it included amendments that had not been previously discussed. Hamas’ refusal to give up control of Gaza hindered previous rounds of talks, but the proposal offered some wiggle room here.
Hamas objected to the ban on armed groups not subordinate to the Palestinian Authority, including Hamas’ armed wing, the major force in the Gaza Strip today.
The Islamist group, which does not recognize Israel and opposes Abbas’ peace moves, said it also objected to Abbas’ intelligence services being allowed to cooperate with “friendly countries,” a potential reference to the Jewish state.
Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, has dismissed Abbas’ call for January elections as an empty threat and even hinted it would hold a separate election.
Hamas also sought guarantees from Egypt and Abbas the world would recognize the election results, should it come out on top.
Egyptian officials praised Abbas and his Fatah faction for accepting and signing the document, despite their reservations. Cairo blamed Hamas for dragging its feet.
Most Palestinians have lost faith in the efforts and are hopeless a unity deal will ever be reached. Many of the Gaza Strip’s 1.5 million and the West Bank’s 2.5 million residents believe the rivalry weakens prospects for Palestinian statehood.
Such disillusionment could boost chances for independent candidates, like Salam Fayyad, a U.S.-educated economist and former World Bank official, who is Prime Minister in Abbas’ government.
Compiled by Nidal al-Mughrabi, editing by Philippa Fletcher