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Israeli concern over Abbas move

Palestinian demonstrators call for Mahmoud Abbas to seek re-election, 6 November 2009
Palestinians turned out on Friday to show their support for Mahmoud Abbas

Israeli officials have expressed concern over the decision by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not to seek re-election.

Several officials suggested that if carried through, the move could hamper efforts to secure Middle East peace.

Mr Abbbas declared on Wednesday that he would not stand because of an impasse in peace negotiations.

But Arab and Israeli media said his announcement could be a tactical manoeuvre and he could change his mind.

It is thought that Mr Abbas, 74, could stay in post for some time, since the election that he called for 24 January may be postponed if Hamas carries through a threat to block the vote in Gaza.

As he announced his decision, Mr Abbas accused the US of backtracking on its Middle East policy and refusing to persuade Israel to freeze the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

MAHMOUD ABBAS
Born in Safed in British Mandate Palestine (now northern Israel) in 1935; studied law in Egypt and gained doctorate in Moscow
A founder member, with Yasser Arafat, of Palestinian political faction Fatah
Held security role within the PLO in the early 1970s
Appointed head of the PLO's department for national and international relations in 1980
Widely regarded as an architect of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords
In January 2005, elected president of the Palestinian Authority

On Thursday, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said it was an internal issue for the Palestinians, but hinted at Israeli opposition to the move.

"We don't interfere in others' internal affairs," he told Israeli radio.

"But it is evident that Israel and the United States are interested in a Palestinian leadership that is responsible and pragmatic," he said.

Earlier, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak had issued a statement after Mr Abbas's speech expressing hope that the announcement would not damage "efforts to launch negotiations and achieve a peace accord".

And Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that President Shimon Peres had called Mr Abbas a day before his announcement and tried to persuade him to change his mind.

"If you leave, the Palestinians would lose their chance for an independent state," the paper quoted Mr Peres as saying.

"The situation in the region would deteriorate. Stay, for the Palestinian people's sake."

BBC Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi says that although Mr Abbas claims his decision is not a political manoeuvre, a quick reading of his speech reveals that it has all the hallmarks of one.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

Far from abandoning the political scene altogether, Mr Abbas said he would stay on as the chief of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

As his political enemies were quick to point out, the real purpose of Mr Abbas's gambit was to send an angry message to his friends in Washington, our Arab affairs analyst says.

Mr Abbas took over as head of the PLO after Yasser Arafat died in 2004, and became Palestinian Authority president a year later.

But he has struggled to make headway towards a peace deal in negotiations with Israel, amid deadlock over Israeli settlements.

He has also faced opposition from the Hamas movement, which won legislative elections in January 2006 and ousted Fatah from Gaza.

Egyptian-led efforts to broker a unity deal between the two factions have so far been unsuccessful.

The four-year term of the Palestinian Legislative Council, or parliament, is due to expire in January 2010, at which time fresh elections must be held, according to the Palestinian constitution.

Mr Abbas' presidential term expired earlier this year.



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