Fatah, Hamas say deal reached on Palestinian elections

Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) –


Gaza's rulers Hamas and their Fatah rivals in the occupied West Bank agreed Thursday to hold the first Palestinian elections since 2006, united by their opposition to Arab-Israeli normalisation deals.

Polls will be scheduled within six months under a deal reached between Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas and Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh, officials from both sides told AFP.

"We have agreed to first hold legislative elections, then presidential elections of the Palestinian Authority, and finally the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)," said Jibril Rajub, a senior Fatah official.

The last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 saw Hamas win an unexpected landslide.

Saleh al-Arouri, a top Hamas official, said the deal was reached during meetings held in Turkey.

"This time we reached a real consensus," he said, speaking to AFP by phone from Istanbul.

"Divisions have damaged our national cause and we are working to end that," Arouri added.

The recent talks have come after two Arab states -- the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain -- normalised their relations with Israel.

Despite peace deals with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, the new accords broke with decades of Arab consensus that further ties with the Jewish state should not be normalised until it has signed a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

- Joint TV interview -

The most recent Palestinians polls resulted in a brief unity government, but it soon collapsed and in 2007 bloody clashes erupted between the two sides in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has since ruled Gaza, while Fatah has run the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Numerous attempts at reconciliation, including a prisoner exchange agreement in 2012 and a short-lived coalition government two years later, have failed to close the rift.

But in a show of unity, Abbas and Haniyeh are due to give joint interviews later on Thursday, aired by Palestine TV, based in the West Bank, and Al-Aqsa in the Gaza Strip.

Including PLO elections in the agreement paves the way for Hamas to join the organisation, which unites various Palestinian factions including Fatah.

The PLO signed the 1993 Oslo peace accords with Israel, which have long since floundered.

Fatah has not said whether Abbas will seek re-election in the proposed polls.

The 84-year-old has been in office since the 2005 presidential election, when he won 62 percent of the vote.

According to a rare poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research carried out earlier this year, Hamas's Haniyeh would beat Abbas in a presidential election.

The Fatah leader has repeatedly pledged elections over the past decade, but hurdles remain in spite of the Hamas deal.

Enabling Palestinian residents of occupied east Jerusalem to vote will prove particularly challenging, as Israel controls the city and prevents Palestinian officials from working there.