JERUSALEM — Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Korei promised Saturday that Palestinians would hold a general election for a new president within 60 days, as mandated by law.
"The presidential elections will be held before Jan. 9," Korei told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where longtime leader Yasser Arafat was buried Friday at a funeral thronged by a chaotic crush of mourners.
Korei said the date for balloting would be set in a meeting by the Palestinian leadership.
After Arafat fell seriously ill and was flown to a French hospital Oct. 29, the Palestinians pledged to act in accordance with their Basic Law, the equivalent of a constitution. The provision calls for the head of the Palestinian parliament to act as president for two months, until elections are held.
Rouhi Fatouh, the parliament speaker, was sworn in as acting president within hours of Arafat's death. He is a little-known figure whose influence is unlikely to last beyond his stint as acting leader.
Close Arafat associates, chief among them former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, have emerged as the core of the Palestinians' interim leadership. Abbas has succeeded Arafat as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Korei has been tapped to run day-to-day affairs of the Palestinian Authority, the governing entity over which Arafat presided.
Other challengers, however, already are jockeying for position.
An associate of Marwan Barghouti, a charismatic and popular figure, told Associated Press on Saturday that the jailed militia leader would run for the Palestinian Authority presidency.
If Barghouti were to enter the fray -- let alone win, which polls show as likely -- it would leave Israel in an extremely awkward position. Barghouti, a leader of the PLO's Fatah faction, is serving multiple life sentences in connection with plotting attacks against Israelis during the 4-year-old intifada, or uprising, and Israel has ruled out any early release.
The Palestinians already have begun to demand that Israel ease military restrictions within the West Bank and Gaza Strip so as to facilitate campaigning and voting.
"The international community, particularly the United States, should exert pressure on Israel to withdraw its forces and not enter Palestinian cities ... so we can proceed with preparations," said Nabil abu Rudaineh, a former aide of Arafat.
Israel has said it will not accept constraints on army activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that it deems necessary to ensure Israeli security.
Although Palestinians previously said the Israeli military presence did not permit them to hold elections, Arafat also had appeared reluctant to hold elections.
Even though the late leader almost certainly would have won a general election, he did not want militant groups such as Hamas to win municipal seats that also would have been up for a vote.