MPs will be minority in new gov’t — Haniyeh

RAMALLAH — Hamas yesterday set a two-day deadline for other Palestinian factions and independent members of the Palestinian Legislative Council to accept or reject positions in the future Palestinian government even as it appears the group will need the full five weeks to form a government.

Palestinian prime minister-designate and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday that negotiations over a new Cabinet were nearing an end and legislators would be a minority in the new government. 

“The largest number of ministers will be from outside parliament. We’ll form a government that mixes between the political, the technocrats, the independents and the experts, so it can be prepared on all fronts,” he told reporters in Gaza.

Hamas spokesman Salah Bardawil said the group told Palestinian parties they must decide by Monday whether to join a Hamas-led government. Bardawil said two small parties were expected to join — the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Independent Palestine, a party led by human rights activist Mustafa Barghouthi.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ party Fateh remains reluctant to join Hamas in a new government and seems likely to take up seats as opposition. A coalition with Fateh would have boosted Hamas’ hopes of avoiding a financial crisis, with Western governments still threatening to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas accepts conditions that it recognise Israel, renounce the armed resistance and respect previously signed agreements between the PA and Israel.

Yesterday, Abbas met the Quartet’s envoy James Wolfensohn and appealed for continued international aid after Hamas takes power, according to presidential aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

“We told him that the international community should continue providing the Palestinian Authority with money,” he said.

In Riyadh, the PA received a boost after a Hamas delegation currently visiting Saudi Arabia said it had received a Saudi pledge to continue the country’s funding to the PA once a government is formed.

Saudi Arabia is the largest single donor to the PA.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal told the movement’s overall leader Khaled Mishaal in talks late Friday that Riyadh “stands by its commitment to support the Palestinian people politically and financially,” Hamas delegate Izzat Al Reshaq told AFP Saturday.

Last week, Saudi Arabia rejected a request by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to end funding of the PA. The five-member Hamas delegation arrived in Riyadh Friday and is expected to meet King Abdullah during the three-day visit.

Hamas, however, looks set to need the extra two weeks allowed it by Palestinian law to form the next government. Haniyeh was originally tasked by Abbas to form a government within three weeks, but it is extendable for another two weeks. If unsuccessful, or if Abbas refuses to accept the political programme of the new government, Abbas has the legal power to ask another leader to form a government.

While remote, that possibility remained yesterday after an official close to Abbas said the Palestinian president had rejected Hamas’ proposed government programme because it does not meet his demands and those of the international community on relations with Israel.

On Friday, Haniyeh handed Abbas Hamas’ written response to a formal accreditation letter asking it to form a government that abides by interim peace deals with Israel.

“Haniyeh’s one-page response letter included vague wording on their position on the agreements signed with Israel,” the senior official told Reuters.

Another official said Haniyeh’s reply repeated Hamas’ position that it would relate to such accords “in a way that would not harm” the rights of the Palestinians.

“The letter also hinted at the government’s intention to reconsider those agreements that were signed with Israel,” the official told Reuters.

“President Abbas told Haniyeh their position was vague and insufficient. He agreed to continue meeting Hamas until they change the political platform of the government they’re trying to form.”

The wrangling over the formation of government comes a day after acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented a sweeping vision for Israel’s future, saying he will dismantle most West Bank settlements, fortify remaining settlement blocs and set the country’s borders by 2010. The blueprint presented by Olmert, the front-runner in March 28 elections, is the most detailed proposal for Israel’s borders ever presented to voters by an Israeli leader.

“I believe that in four years’ time Israel will be disengaged from the vast majority of the Palestinian population, within new borders, with the route of the fence — which until now has been a security fence — adjusted to the new line of the permanent borders,” Olmert said in an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Olmert will attempt to garner domestic and international support for shaping Israel’s permanent border with the Palestinians. He wants to hold on to the large settlement blocs of Ariel, Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion as well as the settlements encircling occupied East Jerusalem and aims to establish the Jordan Valley as a security border.

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