JERUSALEM — Palestinian officials trying to organize a Jan. 24 election recommended Thursday that the vote be postponed, a move that could prolong uncertainty over President Mahmoud Abbas' political future and the prospect for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Abbas, who is considered a reliable and moderate leader by the West, threw the Palestinian Authority into a crisis last week by declaring he would not seek re-election. Since then, his Palestinian backers, along with some Israeli officials and leaders of Western governments, have urged him to reconsider.
The independent election commission's call to delay the voting for president and a parliament gives Abbas, 74, the option to heed his supporters' calls and stay in office indefinitely. The commission did not propose a new election date.
A spokesman for Abbas, Nabil abu Rudaineh, said the Palestinian leader would decide on the proposed delay after returning from an upcoming trip to Jordan.
Other officials in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority said a January election in the West Bank and Gaza strip is impossible in light of the militant Hamas movement's refusal to permit voting in Gaza, which Hamas controls.
"We received an answer from Hamas that we are not welcome in Gaza," Hanna Nasser, chairman of the election commission, told reporters. "It is clear now that we cannot hold an election in Gaza."
A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said the group opposed the election because it had been set unilaterally. Abbas had called the vote after months of Egyptian-mediated talks with Hamas broke down last month.
Officials in Abbas' Fatah movement are now debating whether to hold elections later this year in the West Bank only, or to pursue further talks with Hamas aimed at ending the rival factions' bitter feud.