RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinian prime minister in the West Bank has said that Palestinians should hold parliament elections in the territory soon, instead of waiting for the elusive reconciliation with Gaza's Hamas rulers.
Salam Fayyad compared the Palestinian split — with rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza since 2007 — to the decades-long division of Germany. He suggested it would not have made sense to forgo elections in West Germany because of Germany's partition.
Fayyad, who spoke to reporters late Monday, appeared to be challenging his boss, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Abbas' Islamic militant Hamas rivals.
Both Abbas and Hamas have said elections should follow a unity deal, which was agreed on in principle several months ago but was never implemented. Under the deal, Abbas would lead an interim unity government for several months to prepare for legislative and presidential elections.
Critics say Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement are reluctant to compete in elections and are unwilling to give up power for a unity deal. Others say holding elections only in some areas would deepen the split. Each side has blamed the other for the failure of reconciliation.
Hamas legislator Salah Bardawil said the group's West Bank rivals "try to accuse us that we are not in favor of democracy, while everyone knows that the first one who refuses the democratic option is President Abbas and his team."
"Instead of taking unilateral steps like elections, they can act to spread freedom in the West Bank," he said.
Human rights groups say both governments have adopted increasingly authoritarian practices, such as blocking protests and detaining dissidents, as part of their crackdown on political rivals.
Fayyad said Palestinians demand elections at a time of a widespread democratic upheaval across the region. "They see elections being held in the Arab world but not here," he told reporters.
Abbas has said he cannot move forward with elections unless Israel allows voting in east Jerusalem, the sector it annexed after capturing it in the 1967 Mideast War. Israel is unlikely to allow such a vote. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be part of their future state, along with the West Bank and Gaza.
In a veiled criticism of Abbas, Fayyad said that "we are creating obstacles by saying, 'if we can't do it in Jerusalem, then we can't do it (hold elections)'."
"I don't think holding elections in parts of the country means enshrining the split," he added. "The idea is to call for parliament elections and not presidential elections."
Abbas appointed Fayyad as prime minister in June 2007, after Hamas seized Gaza by force. The takeover led to separate governments that became increasingly entrenched in their respective territories. Under the stalled unity deal, Abbas was to replace Fayyad as prime minister of an interim government.
Fayyad, a political independent, has strong ties with the international community, but his relations with Abbas and Fatah have become increasingly tense in recent months. He has won praise at home as an effective administrator, stealing some of the spotlight from Abbas, and appears to be raising his political profile. He recently said he would consider running for office if the circumstances are right.
Abbas, meanwhile, has toured several West Bank towns in recent weeks, in marked contrast to his usual routine of going on diplomatic missions abroad or staying in his West Bank government compound. Recent trips to the towns of Hebron, Jenin and Nablus appear aimed at reviving flagging popularity by reconnecting with voters ahead of Oct. 20 municipal elections in the West Bank.
Fatah is competing against independents in the municipal elections, while Hamas is likely to sit out the vote for fear its candidates might be arrested by Israel. Fatah's popularity has declined and success at the polls, even with the main competitor out of the picture, is not guaranteed.
Associated Press writer Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed reporting.