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Why the PLO extended Abbas's term

Some say the PLO's move Wednesday to allow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to stay in office beyond January was aimed at salvaging the PLO's legitimacy. Hamas rejects the extension.

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Renewed US-led peace efforts afoot?

Some analysts say that Abbas's willingness to stay on indicates that there are some renewed US-led peace efforts afoot. Officially, the stalemate has continued in recent weeks as Abbas rejected as insufficient Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's declaration of a ten-month settlement freeze. But backchannels, one prominent Palestinian political writer says, are buzzing.

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Khalil Shaheen, a columnist for the al-Ayyam newspaper, says that the Arab press is full of "leaks" that suggest a propitious movement in international attempts to get the Israeli and Palestinian leaders talking again.

"There are leaks about an American initiative to push it forward. I think there is something going on under the table. The Egyptians, the French, the US, and Israel are working on a formula to bring Abbas down from the top of the tree," Mr. Shaheen says, a reference to the Palestinian leader's conditions for restarting negotiations. These include a total freeze in all settlement growth not just in the West Bank, but in East Jerusalem as well. Israel considers all of Jerusalem its united, sovereign capital and has rejected Palestinian and international calls to curb building there. Israel occupied the territory in the 1967 Middle East war, and later annexed it.

"He's serious. If the Israelis and Americans don't meet these conditions, he will quit. But if they can find a way to keep him on the scene, he will stay," Shaheen says.

Hamas rejects extension for Abbas

Hamas on Wednesday issued a statement rejecting the extension of Abbas's tenure.

In the statement, according the Ma'an News Agency, Hamas says that what's holding up reconciliation between the two is Abbas's refusal to release detainees and to enable Palestinian elections to be held in mid-2010.

"It is a new trick meant to grant Abbas legal status," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said of the extension of Abbas's tenure."Abbas's term has ended, and no one has the right to extend it."

Egyptian mediators have been trying for several months to get Hamas and Fatah to agree to a reconciliation deal. Each side blames the other's intransigence, and says that without such an agreement, nothing – including elections – will move forward.

"The only exit from this crisis is to agree with Hamas, but it isn't happening," says Fares. "Fatah has signed the Egyptian documents and Hamas has some reservations, over them, so they won't sign. From how it looks from here, the Hamas side, has become more aggressive in their position."

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