Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas are scheduled to meet on Sunday to discuss the formation of a unity government, in keeping with last month's agreement in Mecca between the two movements.
The meeting was originally scheduled for Saturday, but differences over the interpretation of the agreement led to the delay, a top PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post.
Abbas told the PLO executive committee on Saturday the unity government should take into account the reaction of the international community to the Mecca agreement.
"The government's political platform should be very clear," he stressed, saying the new government must commit itself to previous agreements signed with Israel.
The Mecca accord only calls for the new Hamas-led coalition to "respect" the agreements, allowing Hamas to argue that this does not mean that the government should abide by them. "We respect the agreements and accept them as a fact on the ground," a Hamas official in Gaza City said. "There's a big difference between respecting something that exists and making a pledge to implement it. Hamas does not recognize the Oslo Accords and will not commit itself to them. The Oslo process is dead because Israel destroyed it."
Fatah, on the other hand, claims there is no difference between respecting and abiding by the agreements. "There's no ignoring the significance of the agreements that were signed with Israel," the senior PA official said. "According to the understandings reached in Mecca, the PLO and President Abbas will be in charge of future negotiations with Israel on the basis of the Oslo Accords. Any new government will have to accept this."
Also Saturday, Hamas presented a list containing its 12 nominees for cabinet posts to Haniyeh, officials said, adding that the lineup included several newcomers.
Fatah has not completed its selection.
Of the 12 candidates proposed by Hamas, seven are from the West Bank and five from the Gaza Strip, said Salah Bardawil, a Hamas spokesman. None of the Gaza candidates served previously in parliament or in the cabinet, he said.
Under a power-sharing agreement, Hamas can nominate 12 ministers, including three independents, while Fatah can propose eight, including two independents. Haniyeh will remain prime minister, while Fatah will fill the post of deputy prime minister.
Former finance Minister Salaam Fayad is expected to return to that post.
According to the official, the main goal behind the formation of the unity government is to persuade the international community to lift financial sanctions imposed on the PA when Hamas took power. "That's why we have to take into consideration the reactions of the Americans and Europeans to the Mecca agreement," he said. "They are insisting that the new government's political program be clear and unambiguous, especially with regards to recognizing Israel and the agreements we signed with the Israelis."
The PLO executive committee urged the international community to take a positive approach toward the Mecca agreement and to make an effort to resume the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. "We call on the Quartet to enhance the role of the new unity government and to enable it to save the Palestinian economy from deterioration," it said in a statement. "We also call for launching a dialogue between the unity government and the Quartet to overcome obstacles that might prevent dealing with the new coalition."
Fatah and Hamas have yet to agree on the make-up of the coalition government, representatives of the two parties said.
The dispute is mainly over the Interior Ministry and deputy prime minister portfolios. Hamas has nominated Hamoudeh Jarwan, a former PLO military prosecutor, as interior minister, while Abbas wants to appoint senior Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan as deputy prime minister.
Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the outgoing Hamas government, said he expected the sides to resolve the dispute in the next 48 hours. "I believe that these obstacles will be overcome and the new government will be announced before the end of this week," he said. "The talks between Fatah and Hamas are continuing in a positive atmosphere and have made progress. I believe the dispute over the two ministries will be resolved during the meeting between Abbas and Haniyeh."
Fatah legislator Azzam al-Ahmed, whose name has also been mentioned as a candidate for deputy prime minister, also said he was optimistic about the prospects for announcing the unity government this week. He said efforts were still under way to convince the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to join the coalition.
He pointed out that the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the People's [Communist] Party had agreed in principle to join the unity government and will each have one minister.
AP contributed to this report.â€¢