(photo credit: AP)
Less than a week after the signing of the Mecca "national unity" agreement, a new crisis is looming between Fatah and Hamas over the formation of a coalition government.
Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the movement was strongly opposed to the expected appointment of Fatah legislator Muhammad Dahlan as deputy prime minister.
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The Mecca agreement calls for the appointment of a Fatah representative as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's No. 2, and Fatah officials have put forward Dahlan as their candidate.
"Over our dead bodies," said a senior Hamas official when asked about the possibility that Dahlan would be appointed. "This man has been involved in the American-backed plot to topple our government. We want a deputy prime minister from the West Bank."
Sources close to Dahlan denied, however, that he was interested in the job. "No one has approached Dahlan on this issue and we don't believe he wants to serve in the new unity government," one source said.
The Hamas official also said his movement was opposed to the appointment of another top Fatah official, Azzam al-Ahmed, as deputy prime minister.
Like Dahlan, Ahmed has been accused of involvement in an alleged scheme to bring down the Hamas-led government.
Two other Fatah officials, Muhammad Shtayeh and Naser Yussef, have also been mentioned as possible candidates for the post.
Fatah spokesman Abdel Hakim Awad said Hamas had no right to veto Fatah's candidate. "The appointment of a deputy prime minister is an internal Fatah affair," he said. "Hamas has no right to meddle in our affairs, whether the candidate is Dahlan or someone else."
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who returned from abroad on Wednesday, called off plans to deliver a televised speech on Thursday about the Mecca accord.
Abbas chaired an emergency meeting of the PLO executive committee in his office late Wednesday night to discuss the latest crisis with Hamas and to brief its members on the Mecca summit.
Abbas aides said the decision to cancel his speech was taken after Haniyeh's refusal to tender his resignation to pave the way for the unity government.
"We remain committed to the Mecca agreement," said Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh. "We reject any changes or preconditions for the implementation of the agreement. All sides must abide by the agreement and refrain from setting preconditions."
PA officials told the Post that the latest crisis erupted after Haniyeh set three conditions for submitting his resignation.
First, Haniyeh wants Abbas to approve a series of appointments made by the Hamas-led government over the past year and to rescind his decision to outlaw Hamas's "Executive Force." Second, Haniyeh is demanding that Abbas approve Hamas's candidate for interior minister before the formation of the unity government.
Third, Haniyeh is asking that independent legislator Ziad Abu Amr, who is expected to serve as foreign minister in the coalition government, be considered a Fatah, and not a Hamas, candidate.
Under the terms of the Mecca agreement, Hamas is entitled to name three independent ministers, while Fatah may chose two.
The officials said the crisis also centered around Abbas's refusal to endorse either of Hamas's candidates for interior minister - Hamoudeh Jarwan and Ahmed Musleh.
Hamas legislator Yehya Musa admitted that the two parties remain at loggerheads over several issues, including the identity of the new interior minister and the status of previous decisions made by Haniyeh's government.
"President Abbas has thwarted a series of decisions and appointments made by the government," he said. "He has also rejected our candidate for the Interior Ministry, Hamoudeh Jarwan. These issues must be resolved before Haniyeh's resignation."
He confirmed that a row had also erupted with Fatah over the appointment of Abu Amr as foreign minister.
"Fatah wants Abu Amr to be regarded as Hamas's candidate," he said. "But the truth is that he was nominated by Fatah."
Musa lashed out at next week's summit that will bring together Abbas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"We're not expecting much from this meeting," he said. "The summit is aimed at driving a wedge between the Palestinians and inciting against the proposed unity government."
A top official in Abbas's office condemned Musa's statements as "political extortion." He also criticized Haniyeh for setting conditions for his resignation. "These actions reflect ill intent on the part of Hamas," the official said. "Obviously, there are some in Hamas who are trying to undermine the Mecca agreement."