(photo credit: AP)
The new Hamas cabinet is prepared to hold talks with representatives of the Quartet, which comprises the US, Russia, the EU and the UN, to discuss ways of ending the conflict with Israel, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh declared on Tuesday in a speech before the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Presenting his cabinet's political program and ministers, Haniyeh called on the EU to reassess its policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to exert pressure on Israel to end the "occupation of Palestinian territories."
Haniyeh declared that his "government won't spare any effort to reach a just peace in the region. We're not warmongers and we don't call for terrorism and bloodshed."
Israel dismissed Haniyeh's speech as "double-talk."
"We saw a lot of creative wordplay, but not any sign of moderation," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. "We saw an attempt to smile toward the West, but did not see any real moderation. The sad fact is that, when Hamas speaks about a 'just peaceâ€š' they are unfortunately talking about a peace without Israel."
Regev said he did not see in the speech any movement toward meeting the Quartet's benchmarks for gaining international legitimacy: recognition of Israel, renouncing terrorism, and acceptance of previous agreements. "Unless this new Hamas government accepts these benchmarks... the international community will not accept them as legitimate, and the PA government will become a pariah regime," Regev said.
The US rejected Hamas's proposal to hold talks with the Quartet, saying Hamas must first meet the three conditions the international community had set.
Fatah legislators scoffed at Haniyeh's program, calling it obscure and lacking political vision. They said they would not support the cabinet during Tuesday's vote of confidence.
The vote, which was originally scheduled for Monday, was postponed at the request of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas because of the elections in Israel, PA and Hamas officials told The Jerusalem Post.
Monday's session was held simultaneously in Ramallah and Gaza City through videoconferencing. The Hamas cabinet, which enjoys the support of a majority of legislators, is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday, the day after the Israeli elections.
"I was hoping that our meeting would be in Jerusalem, the capital of our independent Palestinian state," Haniyeh told the PLC. "But under the current circumstances, the homeland is divided in a clear sign of the harshness and oppression of the occupation. The occupation is waging a bitter war against our people and against our democratic choice."
Haniyeh claimed that Israel, through its recent measures and policies, wanted to send a message to the Palestinians that they had made a mistake by electing Hamas and that they would therefore be punished.
Outlining his cabinet's main tasks, Haniyeh promised to work toward ending financial corruption and anarchy and establishing good relations with the international community. He said the cabinet would focus its efforts on defending the Palestinians in the face of occupation and removing the settlements and the security fence.
He added that the cabinet would oppose partial agreements and attempts by Israel to create new facts on the ground, including the unilateral drawing of borders. He also stressed his commitment to the right of return and compensation for all refugees.
Referring to agreements with Israel, Haniyeh only said that his cabinet would deal with them in "responsible" manner and in a way that served the interests and rights of the Palestinians.
Haniyeh promised to fight corruption by enhancing the principle of transparency and accountability, urging Palestinian, Arab and Muslim investors to explore the prospects of business opportunities in the PA-controlled areas.
Haniyeh criticized US threats to boycott the PA financially as unjustified, calling on the international community to respect the democratic choice of the Palestinians. "My government will establish good and strong relations with the world," he pledged. "We are interested in having solid relations with the European Union."
Fatah legislator Azzam al-Ahmed, commenting on Haniyeh's speech, said, "This program is obscure in the political, economic and social fields. This is an essay, not a political program."
PA negotiator and legislator Saeb Erekat also criticized the speech. "This program contained only slogans," he said. "It did not mention practical steps, such as ways of guaranteeing financial aid and removing the separation wall." He said all the Fatah legislators were planning to vote against the cabinet.