RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank on Saturday announced plans to hold elections by September, running into immediate opposition from its Hamas rivals in Gaza.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee's call for presidential and legislative polls comes amid stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian talks and the political upheaval in Egypt, a key player in peace efforts.
And chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat on Saturday submitted his resignation.
The opposition of the Islamist movement Hamas already killed a plan by the Palestinian Authority to hold a general election in January 2010.
Egypt under president Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted on Friday, has also played a key role in so far fruitless efforts to reconcile the mainstream Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and its bitter rival Hamas.
The Islamist movement scored a surprise triumph in a legislative election in 2006 and control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, ousting Fatah in a week of deadly streetfighting.
"The executive committee has decided to start preparations for presidential and parliamentary elections in the coming months ... no later than September," the PLO's Yasser Abed Rabbo told journalists.
The PLO, which groups the main Palestinian nationalist movements but not Hamas, has since 2004 been led by Abbas, whose mandate as president expired in January 2009 but was extended until new polls to avoid a political vacuum.
Hamas immediately rejected the latest elections plan. "This procedure is invalid because president Abbas has no legitimacy and is not fit to organise such elections," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said.
Abbas's government last week also called local elections for July 9, the first Palestinian vote since 2006. But the Hamas rulers of Gaza vowed to ignore that decision, limiting the poll to the West Bank.
In contrast, the Islamists welcomed Erakat's offer to resign on Saturday.
Erakat, who has been at the centre of negotiations since the 1991 Middle East peace conference in Madrid, told AFP he was stepping down because of his responsibility for WikiLeaks disclosures.
The chief negotiator said he was assuming "responsibility for the theft of documents from his office" that he said had been "deliberately" tampered with.
Last month, Erakat accused Al-Jazeera of taking part in a campaign to overthrow Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA) after the Doha-based channel began to release a cache of confidential documents known as "The Palestine Papers."
The files expose concessions to Israel in 10 years of secret peace talks, embarrassing and angering Abbas's leadership. Erakat in January accused Al-Jazeera of trying to discredit the peace process and provoke a revolt.
His decision to resign "shows that the leaked documents were authentic," Hamas's Barhum said, urging the PLO to halt all negotiations with Israel.
Erakat has pointed to a possible US-Israeli effort to topple the PA because of its refusal to take part in US-brokered direct peace talks unless the Jewish state halts West Bank settlement construction.
The talks have been suspended since September.
The leaked files allege that Palestinian negotiators offered unprecedented concessions during peace negotiations, including on the ultra-sensitive subjects of Jerusalem and refugees, with nothing in return from Israel.
They also show PA members closely cooperating with Israel in its fight against Hamas.
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