Feb 1, 2011 9:08 AM by Posted by Sharlee Barriere
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) - The Western-backed Palestinian government in the West Bank said Tuesday it will hold local council elections "as soon as possible."
The move appeared to be a response to unrest in Egypt, where demonstrators have staged days of mass protests against the authoritarian regime. The Palestinian Authority has not held elections since 2006, leaving the president and parliament members
in office after their elected terms ended.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's Cabinet said Tuesday it would set election dates during its next session, probably next week.
Fayyad hopes to hold the vote in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But Gaza will likely not participate since it is controlled by the rival Hamas militant group. There was no immediate response from Hamas.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas canceled local elections in the West Bank in 2009 when it appeared that his Fatah movement would lose key seats to independents.
Fatah has been burned twice before by heading into elections despite warnings of impending defeat. Hamas scored heavily in 2005 municipal elections and won a majority in the Palestinian parliament the next year.
Elections have not been held in the territories since. Abbas' four-year term expired in 2009, though his term has been extended indefinitely. The parliament's term expired in 2010, though it, too, continues to serve.
Tuesday's announcement did not mention presidential or parliamentary elections - presumably a key step toward Palestinian reconciliation.
Abbas' West Bank government has been at odds with Hamas since it took over the Gaza Strip by force in 2007 and set up a rival government. Before Tuesday, West Bank officials said they couldn't hold elections while the territories remained divided.
The announcement's timing suggested it came in response to the days of massive street protests in Egypt calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
Cabinet Secretary Naim Abu al-Hommos denied the decision had any link to the Egyptian unrest, telling The Associated Press the Cabinet had been "waiting for the right atmosphere" to hold elections.