(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian prime minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh announced over the weekend that he had completed the task of forming a new cabinet and said he would present the new line-up to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in Gaza City on Sunday.
"I believe that President Abbas will approve the new cabinet - a move that will enable us to present it to the Palestinian Legislative Council for a vote of confidence," Haniyeh said, adding that he was encouraged by Abbas's initial response to the formation of the new cabinet during a phone conversation he had with him on Friday night.
Although Haniyeh said the international community should expect a "big surprise" when the new cabinet announces its political program, sources close to Hamas said the program, which consists of 10 points, calls for pursuing the fight "in all forms" against the "occupation."
The program also stresses the right of return for all refugees, but says Hamas would continue to abide by the unofficial truce with Israel that was reached by most Palestinian factions in February 2005.
Haniyeh was originally scheduled to announce the names of his ministers on Saturday, but delayed the announcement hoping that Fatah and other factions would agree to join his cabinet.
Haniyeh refused to reveal the identities of the new ministers, but pointed out that the new cabinet would consist largely of technocrats and independents.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the identities of the ministers in the Hamas-government were inconsequential.
"The formation of this extremist Hamas government, which refuses to accept the three benchmarks articulated by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan - recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and accept previous agreements - will not receive international legitimacy and will create a situation under which the Palestinian government will turn into a pariah regime," he said.
Regev said that as long as the Hamas-led government was "unreformed and supports terrorism," it made no difference who held the different portfolios.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is the only faction that has agreed so far to join the Hamas-led cabinet. Haniyeh said Hamas would continue its efforts to persuade as many factions as possible to join the coalition.
Rabah Muhana, a senior PFLP official in the Gaza Strip, said his group had agreed "in principle" to join a Hamas-led cabinet. "In principle, we won't say no to participation in the new cabinet," he said. "The PFLP supports Hamas's political and social program. We will take a final decision in the next 24 hours."
The sources said the new cabinet would consist of 24 ministers, 14 of them from the West Bank and the remaining from the Gaza Strip. They said that the main portfolios, such as Foreign Affairs, Interior and Finance, would be in Hamas's hands.
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a spokesman for Fatah, accused Hamas of ignoring the PA's Basic Law and the PLO in its platform. "Hamas did not carry out major changes in its program and it must deal with the situation realistically," he said. "Hamas's program will only isolate the Palestinians in the international arena."
Fatah legislator Azzam al-Ahmed accused Hamas of trying to dictate its own agenda to other factions, and reiterated his party's refusal to join the new cabinet. "Hamas has made its decision and it's clear that they don't want partnership," he said. "They only want to impose their will on others and this is something that we in the PLO can't accept because we are used to dialogue."
In another development, Hamas denied statements attributed to Haniyeh according to which he was prepared to sign a peace treaty with Israel at the White House. The statements were made during an interview with CBS on Friday.
"We regret that some in the Palestinian media quoted false reports in the American media," said Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri. "Hamas won't change its position because it was elected by the Palestinians on the basis of continuing the resistance [against Israel]."