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Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh announced on Wednesday that he was planning to present his Hamas cabinet to the Palestinian Legislative Council on Saturday for a vote of confidence.
The vote was expected to be presented after Israeli elections on Tuesday.
The announcement came shortly after the PLO executive committee, a key-decision-making body, rejected the political platform of the new cabinet and called on the Islamic movement to change its policy. Hamas leaders dismissed the demand as "illegal."
Some PA officials here expressed fear that the committee's decision would trigger a new crisis with Hamas.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah legislator and member of the executive committee, warned that Hamas's program would lead to a political and constitutional crisis between the PA chairman and the new cabinet.
"If Hamas insists on its position, we will soon face a severe crisis," he said. "Hamas's policy will isolate the Palestinians on the international arena."
The committee's decision is non-binding, although some of its members claimed that Abbas was obliged to accept it. Taysir Khaled, member of the executive committee, told The Jerusalem Post: "The decision is not a recommendation and President Abbas must endorse it. It is inconceivable that a Palestinian cabinet does not recognize the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinians. We want Hamas to behave like a government and not a political party."
Asked if the executive committee had the power to reject a cabinet, Khaled pointed out that the committee had already rejected an emergency cabinet that was established under Yasser Arafat.
However, PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, speaking to reporters after the meeting, ruled out the possibility that the committee's stance would create a constitutional crisis.
"The committee, in accordance with internal regulations, discussed the names of the members of the cabinet and its political program and registered important observations," he said, adding that he was keen on seeing a Hamas cabinet assume its responsibilities without difficulties.
Abbas also predicted that Hamas would later amend its platform so that it would include an article recognizing the PLO. "I'm sure that matters will proceed normally and without problems between the various governing institutions," he said.
Zakariya al-Agha, another member of the executive committee, said he and his colleagues had three reservations about the new cabinet's political program - its failure to refer to the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinians, its failure to acknowledge the PA's Basic Law and the fact that it does not mention anything about Israel's plan for unilateral steps in the West Bank.
"The executive committee has the right to make reservations, and the PA chairman will relay our position to the new cabinet," he argued. "The president has authorized us to discuss this issue."
Outgoing Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei also called on Hamas to amend its program. "We don't want to put obstacles in Hamas's way, but we want them to take a position that will unite all of us," he said, adding that there was a consensus among the Palestinians about the role and status of the PLO.
Hamas rejected the executive committee's decision, dubbing it illegal. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the PLC was the only body that was authorized to approve or reject a cabinet. "The PLO executive committee does not represent all the Palestinian political factions," he said. "Hamas, which represents about 60% of the Palestinians, is not part of the PLO."
Haniyeh, for his part, played down the significance of the PLO decision, saying it would have no impact on his plans to present his cabinet to the PLC for approval.
Dr. Ahmed al-Khaldi, who played an instrumental role in drafting the PA's Basic Law, said the prime minister was not obliged to seek the executive committee's approval for his cabinet. He said the prime minister must report only to the PLC about the work of his cabinet.