RAMALLAH, West Bank -- The Palestinian Authority and Hamas on Monday took steps toward holding elections more than a year after signing an agreement that was supposed to end five years of internal strife and division.
Hanna Nasser, the chairman of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, met in the Gaza Strip with Hamas leader there, Ismail Haniyeh, and later said the panel will immediately begin work on updating its Gaza voter registry. The effort will take at least six weeks to complete, he said.
Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since its troops defeated forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007, agreed last week to allow the West Bank-based commission to start work on updating the Gaza voter registry.
At the same time, the Palestinian Authority president is expected to start consultations with Hamas on forming a new government headed by Abbas, which is expected to be announced in 10 days when he meets with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Cairo.
They also are expected to announce a date for the long-overdue presidential and legislative elections in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, which are expected to take place in six months.
While this is the first time in many years that Abbas and Hamas seem to be taking concrete steps toward reconciliation, Palestinians in general and political factions remain skeptical.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Jamal Mousa, a West Bank public employee.
Political leaders have also said they’ve seen previous agreements collapse and they do not have much faith that this one is going to work either.
But Mousa, who is one of more than 150,000 public employees, is worried about not getting paid at the end of the month if donor countries do not approve of the new government.
While the U.S. is the biggest supplier of funds to an aid-dependent Palestinian Authority, Israel can withhold a crucial $100 million it collects every month on behalf of the Palestinian government in taxes and customs on goods entering through its ports. The Palestinian Authority uses the money to pay salaries.
The U.S. and Israel have threatened to suspend funds if Hamas, considered by both as a terrorist organization, is allowed any role in the Palestinian decision-making process. David Hale, the special U.S. envoy to the Middle East peace process, is expected in Ramallah in the coming days to discuss the matter with Abbas.
Photo: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, right, meets with Hanna Nasser, chairman of the Palestinian Elections Commission, in Gaza City on Monday. Credit: Mohammed Saber / European Pressphoto Agency.