Mahmud Abbas was elected Palestinian president in 2005
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, seen here in July 2011, has vowed to "speed up" efforts with Hamas to form a new government and to organise fresh elections, in a major speech to his leadership. © Abbas Momani - AFP/File
Mahmud Abbas was elected Palestinian president in 2005
AFP
Last updated: November 17, 2011

Abbas to speed up steps towards vote and unity cabinet

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas pledged on Wednesday to "speed up" work with Hamas to form a new caretaker government and to prepare for fresh elections.

In an address to the Palestinian leadership timed to mark seven years since the death of veteran leader Yasser Arafat and the 23rd anniversary of their declaration of independence, Abbas vowed to push ahead with efforts to cement a landmark unity deal between Fatah and Hamas.

"In order to expedite the implementation of the reconciliation, we will continue to make every effort to speed up the resolution of the remaining issues -- first among them the presidential and legislative elections, as well as those for the Palestinian National Council, and the formation of a government of independents to oversee the elections," he said.

The formation of a caretaker government, which would prepare for elections within a year, was a central aspect of a surprise reconciliation deal which was signed in May, but efforts to implement the deal have run aground due to a dispute over who would take on the role of premier.

Abbas is said to have pushed strongly for his current prime minister Salam Fayyad to remain in office, but Hamas has said publicly it would not support him.

Fayyad told Arab media this week he did not want to be an obstacle to reconciliation, and reports have suggested he will step aside to allow another independent to lead the interim government.

"Achieving reconciliation is the desire of all our people... and I promise you all that we will do what we can to accomplish the reconciliation," Abbas said.

Moves to set up a unity government ahead of new elections will be central to key talks between Abbas and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal when they meet in Cairo on November 25 to try and advance the reconciliation deal between their rival movements.

"This issue and related political matters will be on the agenda of my meeting with Khaled Meshaal... including the question of where are we going," Abbas said.

Abbas said they would also discuss the Palestinian bid for state membership at the United Nations, which is currently being debated by the UN Security Council, although its members are split over the issue.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu welcomed Abbas's speech.

"We welcome the positive spirit of this speech towards the reconciliation, the Hamas movement and national issues," he said.

"We hope that this spirit will be carried into the meeting with Abu Walid (Meshaal) and we will see the beginning of real implementation of the reconciliation."

The last time the Abbas and Meshaal met was in May when they formally signed the reconciliation agreement in Cairo.

Meeting late Tuesday, the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee called for reconciliation efforts to be speeded up.

"The PLO executive committee underlines the importance of making real progress to open the way for reconciliation and advancing toward holding... elections," the committee said. Hamas is not a PLO member.

Earlier this week, Ahmed said the two factions had reached agreement on "important issues" which would be announced after the leaders meet in Cairo.

"The meeting will also address the issue of presidential and legislative elections and there is an agreement between the Fatah and Hamas movements to hold them as scheduled in May," he told AFP.

"They will be preceded by the formation of a national consensus government, the restructuring of the Central Election Commission, the formation of an election court, the initiation of national reconciliation and the restructuring of the security services."

Ahmed said he had "visited Cairo secretly several times" to prepare for the meeting, which would "involve a mutual understanding."

Fatah signed an unexpected reconciliation deal with Hamas in May under which they were to have quickly set up a caretaker government of independent figures to prepare for elections within a year.

But the agreement has never been implemented, with both sides bickering over the composition of the interim government and who should head it.

The last time the Palestinians went to the polls was for parliamentary elections in 2006, which Hamas won by a landslide.

New parliamentary and presidential elections had been due in January 2010 but the Palestinian Authority abandoned efforts to hold a vote after Hamas refused to organise one in Gaza.

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