By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: December 16, 2009
JERUSALEM — The Palestine Liberation Organization indefinitely extended the term of President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, a move intended to avoid a constitutional crisis in the Palestinian territories when his official tenure expires in little over a month.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Abbas issued a decree for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on Jan. 24. But Palestinian election officials subsequently said the voting could not be held because Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza, would not allow them to begin preparations for the elections there.
Hamas, which took over Gaza in 2007, and Mr. Abbas’s Fatah faction, which is now concentrated in the West Bank, have still not reconciled.
Neither Mr. Abbas nor the P.L.O.’s Central Council, which met on Tuesday and Wednesday in the West Bank city of Ramallah, has announced a new date for elections. The council’s decision also extends the term of the Palestinian Authority’s parliament, although it is not functioning now because of the split between Fatah and Hamas.
Hamas rejected the Central Council’s formula, saying its decisions were “illegal” and a subversion of democracy.
Mr. Abbas’s future is uncertain at a time when many Palestinians are losing faith in the idea of a negotiated peace deal with Israel — and as the Palestinian side faces pressure from Israel and the United States to return to the negotiating table. Mr. Abbas has insisted that he will not run for a second term.
The P.L.O. council’s decision increased the likelihood that Mr. Abbas would remain in office, at least for a while.
In an effort to bolster his credibility at home, Mr. Abbas has said that he will return to negotiations only if Israel completely halts settlement construction, including in East Jerusalem. Last month, Israel declared a halt to new residential construction in West Bank settlements for 10 months as part of an effort to revive stalled Middle East peace talks. But the Israeli moratorium allowed for the completion of up to 3,000 homes already under construction and for a limited number of new public buildings, and excluded East Jerusalem.
For their part, the Israelis have become skeptical of Mr. Abbas’s intentions. At a cabinet meeting last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “It seems that the Palestinians have adopted a strategy of rejecting negotiations with Israel in order to avoid the demands of Israel and the international community, which require compromises on their part.”
In an interview in the newspaper Haaretz on Wednesday, however, Mr. Abbas said that if Israel were to halt all construction in the settlements, talks for a final peace deal could be completed within six months.
Mr. Abbas said his discussions with the previous Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, were cut short because of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza last winter. As a result, Mr. Abbas told Haaretz, “Everything got stuck.”
Mr. Olmert has said that he presented Mr. Abbas with a far-reaching proposal, but that he never received a response.
Mr. Abbas also told Haaretz that if elections were to take place before talks resumed, he would not run. “If I can’t reach my goals,” he said, “I see no reason to hold onto my chair.”
More Articles in World » A version of this article appeared in print on December 17, 2009, on page A11 of the New York edition.