When the head of the Shin Bet security agency recently urged Mahmoud Abbas to scrap the upcoming elections for the Palestinian parliament if Hamas takes part, the Palestinian Authority president retorted that Israel was responsible for the strength of the terror group, the Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday.
“I do not work for you, I will decide if there will be an election and with whom. You built Hamas, not me,” Abbas reportedly told Nadav Argaman during the meeting.
According to the report, the two also discussed the International Criminal Court’s investigation into Israel and the Palestinians over alleged war crimes.
“Please, as far as I am concerned, you and I are sitting together in the same prison cell,” Abbas reportedly said.
Last month the ICC announced it would investigate possible war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinians following a request by the Palestinians, who joined the court in 2015 after being granted nonmember observer status in the UN General Assembly.
Kan previously reported that the meeting between Abbas and Argaman had taken place “in recent weeks” in Ramallah, the PA’s seat of government, but Wednesday’s revelations provided further details.
Abbas issued a decree in January ordering the first national Palestinian elections in over 14 years. The last elections, held in 2006, resulted in a parliamentary majority for Hamas.
Hamas’s victory led to a year-and-a-half struggle for power, which ended in 2007 with the establishment of two rival Palestinian governments: Hamas in Gaza and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
In a mid-January decree, Abbas set the vote for May 22. Many observers have been skeptical, noting that numerous pledges by Palestinian leaders to hold elections have fallen through. But anticipation has slowly been building that the Palestinians might actually hold a national vote for the first time in 15 years.
The report came a day after a popular Palestinian leader imprisoned by Israel for terrorism registered his own parliamentary slate in a dramatic last-minute development that could weaken Abbas’s Fatah party and increase the chances of a Hamas victory in the legislative elections.
Marwan Barghouti is serving five life sentences in Israeli prison for masterminding terror attacks during the Second Intifada. But he is widely popular among Palestinians, many of whom see him as a symbol of resistance untainted by corruption.
His wife, Fadwa Barghouti, accompanied by leading Fatah dissident Nasser al-Kidwa, headed to the Central Elections Committee headquarters in Ramallah to officially submit their electoral list.
The slate of candidates, which is called “Freedom,” will see al-Kidwa take the top spot, while Fadwa will be second on the list.
Abbas has struggled to maintain unity within Fatah in the buildup to the vote. Fatah voters will now choose between Abbas’s list, Barghouti and exiled Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan.
Many Palestinians draw unfavorable comparisons between Barghouti and the 86-year-old Abbas. The Palestinian Authority is widely seen as corrupt and ineffectual by many Palestinians; Ramallah is also regularly assailed for its coordination with Israel. Opinion polls consistently find a majority of Palestinians demanding the PA leader’s resignation.
Al-Kidwa is a widely respected senior diplomat and Yasser Arafat’s nephew. Until recently, he served as a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, the Palestinian movement’s most powerful decision-making body.
Officials in Ramallah had speculated that Barghouti would not himself run in the upcoming legislative elections, instead keeping his eyes firmly locked on the presidential vote scheduled to follow them.
According to opinion polling, aging PA leader Abbas — who is his Fatah movement’s presumptive nominee — would likely lose to Barghouti in a faceoff.
Agencies contributed to this report