Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas announced Saturday the indefinite postponement of the Palestinian legislative elections in what was widely seen as a political maneuver designed to help Abbas’s faltering Fatah movement reorganize against the surging extremist Islamic Hamas organization.

The postponement came only one week after Abbas’s visit to the United States where he was hailed by the Bush Administration as a moderate political reformer and harbinger of Arab democratization, even as Abbas’s state-controlled media have tried to emphasize their own Islamic character. Abbas’s announcement came one day after a senior mosque preacher employed by Abbas again attacked the United States for leading “aggression against all Islamic peoples” during a speech broadcast on Palestinian state radio.

“Iran is facing direct American threats because of its nuclear program, and we read in the press how [Israeli] settlers who want to enter Al-Aqsa,” declared Sheikh Youssef Abu-Sneina in the radio speech from the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

“How can Muslims live in the Western countries these days, and how can they be attacked solely for being Muslims” asked Sheikh Youssef Abu-Sneina, in a speech broadcast from the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Voice of Palestine Radio. “Our people have realized that there will be no end to it until the rule of Islam returns to the land,” declared Abu-Sneina, who is employed by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

During his speech, Abu-Sneina also hammered at the theme that American forces repressed Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as deliberately desecrating Islamic sites and copies of the Quran, Islam’s scripture.

This theme has been repeated systematically in the Abbas-controlled Palestinian press for three weeks and in at least half a dozen mosque speeches by Abu-Sneina, Jerusalem Mufti Ikrema Sabry and Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris–all broadcast on television and radio even after the charges of Quran desecration were retracted by Newsweek magazine.

Abbas has tried to channel Islamic fervor in his own direction and not to confront the Hamas movement directly, hoping for a change in fortunes after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza scheduled for August, one month after the date originally set for Palestinian elections.

It is now expected that the elections will be scheduled to follow the Israeli withdrawal, allowing Abbas to take credit for it. At the same time, the move will allow Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to avoid the appearance of turning Israeli settlements to the hands of Hamas which is pledged to destroy Israel.

“There was no choice but to delay the elections until action is completed by the legislature,” declared Dr. Abbas who heads the Fatah movement, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, explaining that the Palestinian legislature had not completed the election law during weeks of deliberations.

But in an appearance Saturday on Palestinian television, Deputy PA Prime Minister Nabil Sha’ath suggested that there were deeper factors behind the Abbas postponement of the elections.

“There was worry in the Fatah movement about our political program and the entire Palestinian struggle that have been in effect for the past 30 years, and this struggle and this program will continue,” asserted Dr. Sha’ath. His reference to the 30-year program of the Fatah appeared to be a reference to the 1974 “Program of Stages” under which the PLO said it would conquer all Israeli-held territory by a sequence of diplomatic and military moves.

[Permission to quote or reprint from article conditional on citing Michael Widlanski or Michael Widlanski Associates.]

Dr. Michael Widlanski is a specialist in Arab politics and communication whose doctorate dealt with the Palestinian broadcast media. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post.