Abbas to Issue Referendum on Whether the Palestinians Should Recognizing Israel

Abbas’ announcement would amount to a confidence vote that could cap a brewing dispute between Abbas and the Islamist militant group that swept into power in January elections and whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

Hamas has refused to soften its stance on Israel despite Western pressure and an aid boycott that has threatened to destroy the Palestinian Authority.

“If you do not reach an agreement, I would like to tell you frankly that I will put this document to a referendum,” Abbas said on the first day of a two-day “national dialogue” designed to resolve difference between the leaders of Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah faction, according to Reuters.

Hamas officials were reportedly split over the idea of a referendum, which Palestinian pollsters expect to pass, with several giving their blessing and others viewing it as an attempt to undercut the Hamas-led government.

Amar Duaik, director of the Palestinian election commission, said calling a referendum may be difficult, requiring parliament to pass a referendum law or Abbas to issue a presidential decree, reported the Associated Press.

Hamas and Fatah forces have been fighting all week, and 10 people have died in violence many fear will lead to civil war.

Abbas’ proposal came as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert returned from a trip to Washington, where he presented President Bush with a West Bank pullout plan.

Olmert said if there is no progress on the peace plan, Israel would withdraw from much of the West Bank, solidify its control of large settlement blocs and unilaterally draw its border with the Palestinians.

Palestinians reject the unilateral plan, and Abbas’ move is generally viewed as an effort to demonstrate good faith negotiations.