GAZA CITY (AFP) â€” Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas formally tasked Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh on Tuesday with forming the first government controlled by Islamists one month after the faction’s election victory.
Abbas gave an official nomination letter to Haniyeh at his Gaza City office, an arrangement agreed in talks between the moderate Palestinian Authority (PA) president and leaders of the movement late Monday.
“I received the nomination letter from President Abu Mazen (Abbas). The Hamas leadership will examine the contents of this letter before soon giving a definitive response to the president,” Haniyeh told reporters.
A source in Abbas’ Ramallah office told AFP that the letter asked the new government to commit to agreements between Israel and the PA and the principle of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.
Branded a terrorist organisation by the European Union and United States, Hamas does not recognise Israel’s right to exist and its charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. Hamas also rejects all agreements with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo peace accords that established the PA.
But the 43-year-old Haniyeh â€” viewed as a pragmatist within the group â€” said “political differences between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority president will be resolved by dialogue.”
He reiterated that his faction would continue to consult other parties, including Abbas’ outgoing ruling Fateh, with a view to forming a “national coalition government.”
Despite his call for Hamas to renounce armed struggle, Abbas is on weak footing after Fateh’s demoralising electoral defeat and it is unclear how he will seize the political agenda.
The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has already agreed in principle to joining the government, but Fateh, which now has only 45 seats to Hamas’ 74 in the 132-member parliament, has remained cool.
In an indication of how disintegrating relations to come, the secretary general of parliament, appointed by the outgoing chamber, said he had been chased out of his office by the new Hamas speaker.
Fateh’s Ibrahim Khreisheh said Aziz Duweik and another Hamas MP burst into his office “accompanied by 10 men who don’t work for the PLC” parliament, ordering him to leave the room that has been earmarked for a senior Hamas MP.
Under the basic law, Haniyeh has three weeks to formulate a cabinet line-up and secure parliamentary endorsement.
On the first leg of a Middle East tour, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned at a news conference after talks in Cairo that the faction must choose between terror and politics.
“You canot have one foot in the camp of terror and another foot in the camp of politics,” said Rice, who is expected to use her tour to persuade Arab countries not to bail out Hamas.
Israel has already imposed economic sanctions on the PA. The United States and the European Union have also threatened to cut off aid to a Hamas-led government unless it changes its political platform.
The United States on Tuesday backed Israel’s move to withhold customs and tax monies collected on behalf of the Palestinians.
“The US position is this is a sovereign decision for the government of Israel to make,” deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. “We understand that decision.”
Although the emergence of a Hamas-led administration is possibly Israel’s worst nightmare come true, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview to be broadcast later Tuesday that peace hopes had not disappeared.
Olmert acknowledged the chance of reaching a “quick agreement” with the Palestinians had shrunk.
“But the hope has not disappeared and I am responsible for both things, the battle against Hamas and maintaining hope â€” the chance to reach an agreement,” he told public television without giving any details.
In Iran to reinforce ties with a key ally and Israel’s arch-enemy, Hamas political supremo Khaled Mishaal vowed his movement â€” behind dozens of suicide attacks in the past five years â€” would keep up the fight against Israel.