بسم الله الر حمن الر حيم
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has called for elections before September, prompting Hamas, the rival Palestinian group controlling Gaza, to reject the move.
Saturday's announcement was made after a meeting by the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Ramallah, West Bank.
It came a day after protests in Cairo led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak as Egypt's president. Abbas's Palestinian Authority said the spirit of change in Egypt should inspire Palestinians to unite.
"The Palestinian leadership decided to hold presidential and legislative elections before September," Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Abbas aide, told reporters.
"It urges all the sides to put their differences aside," he said, referring to a bitter rivalry between the PA and Hamas.
Ali Abunimah, co-founder of ElectronicIntifada.com, a website dealing with Palestinian affairs told Al Jazeera that, “You can’t have free and fair elections, these will be rigged elections if run by Palestinian Authority."
He called it “an effort to restore legitimacy of Palestinian Authority that has lost all legitimacy”.
A quick solution to the Palestinian divide seemed unlikely as Fawzi Barhoum, the Hamas spokesman, said Abbas, who has served as president since 2005, lacks the legitimacy to make such a call.
"Hamas will not take part in this election. We will not give it legitimacy. And we will not recognise the results," Barhoum said.
The groups disagree on the interpretation of Palestinian election laws and previous ballots were cancelled as the two sides were unable to reach a reconciliation deal.
Al Jazeera's Cal Perry, reporting from Jerusalem, said "it will be incredibly difficult to bridge this gap before September"."
Abed Rabbo said the disagreements could be resolved in a new legislative council to be formed after the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Hamas won the last parliamentary election in 2006 and a year later routed Abbas's forces to seize control of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas's opposition to Abbas's peace moves with Israel is one of the issues keeping the factions apart.
US-sponsored peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis have faltered since being relaunched last year.
The announcement for the elections was made on the same day Saab Erekat, the chief Palestian negotiator, resigned weeks after internal memos documenting negotiation sessions with Israel were leaked to Al Jazeera.
Some commentators faulted Erekat for making what they considered to be far-reaching concessions to Israel.
Abunimah said that “The resignation of Erekat is an important indication that the Palestine papers are genuine.”
“It (leaked Palestine papers) is a severe blow to the credibility of the PA, and shows how closely they were working with the overthrown Mubarak regime and Israel to maintain the Palestinian split between Gaza and the West bank.”
Abed Rabbo called on Barack Obama, the US president, to step up efforts in helping to reach a Palestinian statehood deal.
|Fatah, the Palestinian political organisation, has reached an agreement with its rival Hamas on forming an interim government and fixing a date for a general election, Egyptian intelligence has said.|
In February, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and a member of Fatah, called for presidential and legislative elections before September, in a move which was rejected by Hamas at the time.
"The consultations resulted in full understandings over all points of discussions, including setting up an interim agreement with specific tasks and to set a date for election," Egyptian intelligence said in a statement on Wednesday.
The deal, which took many officials by surprise, was thrashed out in Egypt and followed a series of secret meetings.
"The two sides signed initial letters on an agreement. All points of differences have been overcome," Taher Al-Nono, a Hamas government spokesman in Gaza, told the Reuters news agency.
He said that Cairo would shortly invite both sides to a signing ceremony.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Gaza, Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, said: I think we are optimistic because ... there is [an] official agreement between Hamas and Fatah, and I think we now have [an] impressive jump to the Palestinian unity.
"Maybe it does not come as one shock because I think it came as a fruit for long talks and discussion.
"I think that today we became very close to this agreement, we have finished some points. It is like [an] outline draft and I think it will be a good beginning.
"Maybe after that we will start how we can implement this agreement to be translated and practised on the ground."
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said: "It is important news ... the geopolitical situation wasn't exactly helpful [to reconciliation] and then we went through six months of upheavals, certainly sweeping through Egypt.
"At the end, you could say that President Abbas has lost his patron in Egypt, which is President Mubarak, and Hamas is more on less facing almost similar trouble now, with Bashar Al-Assad [Syria's president] facing his own trouble in Damascus.
"So with the US keeping a distance, Israel not delivering the goods on the peace process and the settlements, it was time for Palestinians to come together and agree on what they basically agreed on almost a year and a half ago."
Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, said on Wednesday that Abbas could not hope to forge a peace deal with Israel if he pursued a reconciliation accord with Hamas.
"The Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both," he said.
The US is reviewing further reports on details of the reconciliation and while it supports Palestinian reconciliation, Hamas remains "a terrorist organisation which targets civilians", Tommy Vietor, US National Security Council spokesman, said.
"To play a constructive role in achieving peace, any Palestinian government must accept the Quartet principles and renounce violence, abide by past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist."
Hamas does not recognise Israel as a state.
Fatah holds power in the occupied West Bank while Hamas, which won the last parliamentary election in 2006, routed Abbas' forces in 2007 to seize control of the Gaza Strip.
Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Cairo, said: "This effectively will be ending a bitter split that Palestinians have been witnessing since 2007.
"There is an announcement expected in the next few hours to reveal the details of the agreement."
Rageh said the deal was expected to be signed next week and would be attended by Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who is based in Damascus.
Nicole Johnston, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, said: "One of the main civil society groups here is calling on all Palestinian factions to head down to the main square in Gaza City, that's the square of the unknown soldier, to begin the celebrations.
"It seems certainly in Gaza that there's a need for some good news. It's been a pretty rough month here in a lot of respects, an escalation of violence with Israel, the kidnapping and murder of a foreigner.
"So really, this kind of news ... is call for celebration."
Wednesday's accord was first reported by Egypt's intelligence service, which brokered the talks.
In a statement carried by the Egyptian state news agency MENA, the intelligence service said the deal was agreed by a Hamas delegation led by Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of the group's politburo, and Fatah central committee member Azzam al-Ahmad.
Al-Ahmad and Abu Marzouk said the agreement covered all points of contention, including forming a transitional government, security arrangements and the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to allow Hamas to join it.
Speaking on Egyptian state television, al-Ahmad said a general election would take place within a year.
Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior member of Hamas, said all prisoners with a non-criminal background would be released.