Disagreements between Fatah and Hamas over the names of some ministers and other issues resulted in a postponement of the announcement of a Palestinian unity government by a few days, from last Thursday to Monday.
Azzam al-Ahmed, who represented Fatah in the reconciliation talks with Hamas, said that the unity government would consist of 15 to 17 ministers.
He said that Fatah held consultations with representatives of all Palestinian groups concerning the make-up of the unity government, which is to be headed by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
Hamas was opposed to keeping PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki in his job, but apparently changed its mind over the weekend.
Hamas is also opposed to keeping Religious Affairs Minister Mahmud Habbash in his post and to the intention to cancel the Prisoners’ Affairs Ministry.
It was not clear on Saturday whether Habbash would remain in his job.
Abdallah Abdallah, member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, confirmed that the unity government would be announced on Monday. He said that the differences between Fatah and Hamas over the composition of the government have been resolved, paving the way for the announcement.
Abdallah defended the decision to cancel the Prisoners’ Affairs Ministry, even at a time when some prisoners in Israeli jails are on hunger strike. He said that a special commission for prisoners’ affairs would replace the ministry.
The decision to cancel the ministry drew sharp criticism from many Palestinians, including some of Fatah’s top officials.
Palestinians said that the decision was taken following pressure from Israel, which viewed the ministry’s work as a way of supporting terrorism.
Sufyan Abu Zaida, a senior Fatah official, condemned the decision as “extremely dangerous,” saying it would have a negative impact on the case of the prisoners. He too claimed that the decision was taken under pressure from Israel, the US and some EU countries.
Former Prisoners Affairs minister Wasfi Qabaha, a representative of Hamas in the West Bank, said the decision to turn the ministry into an independent commission belonging to the PLO shows that the PA leadership has turned its back to the prisoners.
Qabaha also accused the PA of capitulating to outside pressure to abolish the ministry.
Ziad Abu Ein, Prisoners’ Affairs deputy minister, defended the decision and said that the ministry’s powers would be relayed to the new PLO commission to avoid pressure on the PA leadership from Western donor countries that oppose the transfer of funds to the prisoners and their families.
Abu Ein said that the cancellation of the ministry would in fact benefit the prisoners because they would no longer have to deal with bureaucracy of the government.
Abu Ein revealed that the ministry pays more than NIS 10 million in salaries every month to former prisoners who hold high positions in the PA. It also pays a total of NIS 27m. to the prisoners in Israeli jails, he said.