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Elections envisioned in Palestinian territories this year

From Kevin Flower and Kareem Khadder, CNN
Palestinians in Ramallah on the West Bank celebrate the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Friday night.
Palestinians in Ramallah on the West Bank celebrate the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Friday night.
  • Presidential, national elections to be held by September, authorities say
  • A legislator says it would restore Palestinian "legitimacy"
  • This comes amid potent discontent in the Arab world

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The Palestinian Authority is planning to hold overdue elections this year, a move seen as a reaction to the political discontent taking hold across the Arab world.

Officials said the authority will hold legislative and presidential elections no later than September in the West Bank and Gaza. The announcement comes a few days after officials said they intend to hold local elections in the West Bank and Gaza.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said polls will be held "to satisfy the will of the Palestinian people."

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said the Palestinians believe "it's high time" for polls "because we need to re-establish the legitimacy of our institutions through elections."

Palestinian Authority to hold vote

"We are a big nation, we have lots of people with potential and ability and integrity and charisma and national commitment and I think we should come up with leadership that will do the job," she told CNN.

Palestinians regard these moves as a response to ferment in the Arab world -- street outrage that sparked the overthrow of strongmen in Egypt and Tunisia, a government change in Jordan, and a promise in Algeria to end the emergency rule there. Also, leaders across the Arab world are envisioning reforms to address grassroots economic grievances.

The election announcement was also made amid a persistent focus on resolving Palestinian disputes with Israel.

In another development on Saturday that clouds the direction of Israeli-Palestinian talks, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, the face of the Palestinian people to many in the West, resigned from his post.

The election announcement comes amid a deep political schism.

The West Bank government of the Palestinian Authority is dominated by the Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas, and Gaza is ruled by the rival Islamist group Hamas.

It's unclear now whether the polls will be held in Gaza since the Hamas movement rejects the authority of the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the plan for elections "invalid and illegal," claiming that Palestinian Authority leaders President Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad lack the legitimacy to make such a move.

He said that political reconciliation between Palestinians was necessary before elections could be held and characterized the announcement as a move by the Palestinian Authority to prevent the wave of revolutionary changes taking place in the region from spreading to the Palestinians.

But Ashrawi said the Palestinian Authority is trying to persuade Hamas to participate in elections and believes elections would help the state address its concerns with Israel.

"We are preparing also for statehood and we believe this is an instrument for national unity -- so all these things made it imperative that we do have elections between now and September," she said.

The vote would mark the first time elections have been held in the Palestinian territories since 2006.

In that year, legislative elections brought Hamas into power and led to international sanctions against the Palestinian Authority until Hamas agrees to the renunciation of violence, acceptance of previous agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and the recognition of Israel.

Various attempts at reaching an accord through Palestinian unity talks have ended in deadlock.

Israel wields ultimate authority in the West Bank despite significant local autonomy there. Israel withdrew its troops and citizens from Gaza in 2005, but attacks by Gaza-based militants on the Jewish state have prompted tough Israeli military responses and a stiff economic embargo.

"We are undergoing a serious political crisis given the fact that Israel is continuing settlement activities -- there are no negotiations and there is no international will to hold Israel accountable," said Ashrawi, who's also a member of the Fatah executive committee.