RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stepped back from a political showdown with his Hamas rivals, giving the Islamic militants several days to recognize Israel or face the voters in a referendum on the idea.
Abbas, a moderate, has been pushing the Hamas-led government to accept a proposal that calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, implicitly recognizing the Jewish state. Abbas believes the plan will help lift the economic pressure on the Palestinians and allow him to pursue peace talks with Israel.
Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, has balked at the plan, demanding changes in the language, calling for more time to discuss it, and saying it won't give in to deadlines.
``We are giving enough time, about three days, for our brothers in Hamas to reconsider their position," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas also heads.
Hamas officials welcomed Abbas's offer to extend their dialogue but repeated their opposition to deadlines on the referendum.
Abbas initially gave Hamas until yesterday to accept the plan. Officials said Abbas agreed to the delay at the request of unspecified Arab leaders.
Although a referendum would be nonbinding, a vote could deeply embarrass Hamas, putting public pressure on the group to moderate its violent ideology.
A new survey released yesterday showed 77 percent of Palestinians would vote in favor of the proposal. The survey of 1,200 Palestinians was conducted by Bir Zeit University in the West Bank and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
Abbas's Fatah movement says the president will not accept amendments.
The delay gave Hamas some breathing room as it struggled with a devastating international economic boycott and increasingly bloody tensions with Fatah.
``We still have a chance to make this dialogue a success," said Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza. ``Therefore we ask for more meetings and more dialogue and that we don't use the language of days and time as a threat."
The referendum would be held about 45 days after an announcement by Abbas, officials said.
The Palestinian plan was formulated by senior Hamas and Fatah prisoners held by Israel. Prisoners hold great weight in Palestinian society.
Israel opposes key elements of the 18-point document, but is staying on the sidelines during the internal Palestinian debate. At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making a series of trips abroad to discuss policy.
After visiting the United States and Egypt, Olmert is to visit Jordan tomorrow for talks with King Abdullah II, both countries said.
In the latest violence on the West Bank , rocket-propelled grenades were fired yesterday at the pro-Fatah Preventive Security compound in the Gaza Strip, wounding three maintenance workers, officials said.