Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said Wednesday that the term of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could be extended for a year for legal reasons.
According to Palestinian laws, parliamentary elections and presidential elections should be held in parallel, yet they were desynchronized after the demise of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, al-Malki said during a lecture given at Jerusalem at the invitation of Israel Council on Foreign Affairs.
Thus as Abbas' term ends in January, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) faces two options: to hold the parliamentary elections one year earlier, or to extend Abbas' presidency till January 2010, added al-Malki, who is also the information minister.
In a report to the Israeli cabinet, Yuval Diskin, chief of the Shin Bet internal security agency, said Sunday that as Abbas ends his tenure, the PNA will face another potentially stormy presidential election, adding that the rift between the Palestinian factions is so deep that it will be nearly impossible to hold an election.
Diskin told the cabinet that the current situation has four possible solutions: Abbas can end his tenure as planned; the factions can devise a constitutional solution to allow him to remain in power; Fatah and Hamas can agree on an election date; or Abbas can choose to declare Gaza Strip mutinous, which will immediately bring about the dissolution of the Palestinian parliament and emergency general elections.
LAND FOR PEACE NOW
During the lecture, which was originally planned to be given by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, al-Malki read a statement from Fayyad, wherein the prime minister condemned Israel's continuous settlement activity, one of the key issues dividing the two neighbors.
While stressing that the Palestinian land is the "identity" of the Palestinian people, Fayyad said in the statement that the Jewish state has to choose between settlements and the two-state solution.
The time for the land for peace initiative "is now," said the statement.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders pledged at a U.S.-hosted peace conference in Annapolis last November to reach a comprehensive peace deal by the end of the year. Yet little visible progress has since been achieved, and the Palestinians have repeatedly accused Israel of breaking its promise to halt settlement constructions.
Al-Malki admitted that no breakthrough has been achieved on any of the key issues, including refugees, settlements and the status of Jerusalem among others, although U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week during her seventh visit to the hot spot that progress is being made.
Besides the diverges on the key issues, the peace efforts are also challenged by the political turmoil in Israel, where Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces fraud and bribery probes and would step down as early as in mid-September, and by the conflict between the pragmatic Fatah and the hardline Hamas at the Palestinian side.
Despite lowering expectations for the two sides to reach that ambitious goal, Rice announced that the two sides still have a good chance to achieve the Annapolis goal, an upbeat stance Olmert and Abbas also took after their latest meeting on Sunday.
If the two sides failed to reach an agreement within 2008, said al-Malki, the Palestinian side would evaluate the achievements made so far, and then decide what to do next.