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Setback for Abbas on Ballot Plan

After negotiations between top Hamas and Fatah officials failed to reach a consensus, Fatah leader and Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, announced that a national referendum on a future Palestinian state would be held on July 26. Palestinians will be asked to vote yes or no on the National Reconciliation Document (NRD): an 18-point program developed by the Israeli-imprisoned leaders of Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah, which calls for a Palestinian state within the territory captured by Israel in the 1967 War and implicitly recognizes Israel?s right to exist. President Abbas believes the result of the referendum will reveal the peaceful intentions of the Palestinian people, sending a clear message to the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and the international community. Abbas? confidence is well-founded; recent polls show Palestinians are strongly in favor of the NRD. It is Abbas? contention that a successful referendum will force Hamas – as the people?s elected representatives – to reverse its refusal to recognize Israel or abdicate power, which in turn will re-ignite the peace process. Moreover, the Palestinian President assumes the adoption of the NRD as a policy platform will return vital international aid to the bankrupt Palestinian Authority, currently withheld because of Hamas? refusal to recognize Israel, renounce political violence, and abide by previous Palestinian-Israeli peace agreements . The Hamas leadership opposes the NRD because they envision a future Palestinian state beyond the territorial confines outlined in the prisoner?s program (Hamas? charter calls for the outright destruction of the Israeli state) and the notion of a referendum undermines their governmental authority. From the Hamas viewpoint, the January, 2006 Palestinian elections were a referendum on the future; Hamas opposition to Israel and the peace process was well established and the people chose them to lead the government . Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, believes the referendum can only bring further disunity among the Palestinians. Thus, Hamas has chosen to fight the referendum on two fronts: the Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) prison leaders who signed onto the document have withdrawn their support, citing Abbas? political manipulation of their program; and the Hamas majority in the Palestinian Parliament intends to challenge the legality of the referendum. Though Israel has refrained from publicly commenting on the referendum, they are likely opposed to the NRD as it does not explicitly recognize Israel?s right to exist, demands the right of return for all Palestinian refugees and their families to their homes in Israel and calls for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners from Israeli prisons. Furthermore, restricting the state of Israel to pre-1967 borders would turn over East Jerusalem to the new Palestinian state ? a geographical concession the Israeli government has no intention of making. Unfortunately, Abbas? referendum announcement has been overshadowed by a cycle of violence currently gripping the Palestinian people. The tragic deaths of 8 Palestinian civilians during a family outing to a Gaza beach, initially attributed to a misguided Israeli artillery shell, has galvanized Palestinian ire against Israel. In response, Hamas has ended its 16 month-old ceasefire against Israel and joined PIJ in launching volleys of rockets into S. Israel. The tragedy has also broken the momentum of the peace referendum, enabling Hamas to characterize the program of President Abbas as appeasement in the face of murderous Israeli aggression (In an interesting development, the Israeli military is reporting the explosion was actually due to mines set by Palestinian militants to defend against the incursion of Israeli Special Forces). Palestinian internecine violence has also recently intensified: multiple Hamas-Fatah street shootings have occurred; Hamas has fired upon a Preventive Security Station run

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