The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank has promised to hold long-overdue general elections by September, a surprise move spurred by political unrest rocking the Arab world and embarrassing TV leaks about peace talks with Israel.
In principle, elections could help end the deep political split between West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamic militant Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, the other territory the Palestinians want for their state.
Hamas immediately ruled out participation, saying the vote was meant to divert attention from the scandal caused by the secret documents uncovered by the Al-Jazeera satellite channel last month.
Still, it could become difficult for Hamas to reject elections at a time of growing calls for democracy throughout the Middle East. Hamas itself has praised the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a victory for the Egyptian people.
In a sign of the political damage caused by the leaks, chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat announced his resignation on Saturday.
Mr Erekat has been widely vilified since Al-Jazeera, citing hundreds of internal documents, alleged last month that Palestinian negotiators secretly offered far-reaching concessions to Israel.
The call for elections came a day after Mr Mubarak stepped down, forced out by mass protests against his ironfisted 30-year rule.
The Egyptian uprising and another successful revolt in Tunisia a month earlier have inspired calls for democratic reform throughout the region.
Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said that preparations are under way for legislative and presidential elections later this year.
“We call on parties to put aside all of their differences and to focus on conducting the elections by September at the latest,” he told a news conference. He did not give a firm date for the vote.