hamas cabinet 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
In a move that could jeopardize efforts to establish a Palestinian unity government, Hamas announced on Tuesday that the new government will not recognize Israel's right to exist.
The announcement raised many eyebrows among the inner circle of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Sources close to Abbas expressed fear that some Hamas leaders were trying, through such statements, to scuttle his efforts to form a unity government.
The sources pointed out that similar statements by Hamas leaders were behind the failure of a previous agreement between Hamas and Fatah regarding the proposed unity government. Then, Hamas leaders embarrassed Abbas, who was on a trip to the US, by declaring that, contrary to his assertions, they had not agreed to recognize Israel.
"Apparently there are some people in Hamas who don't want the unity government," a senior PA official told The Jerusalem Post. "Otherwise, why do they have to announce day and night that the new government will not recognize Israel?"
At least three Hamas representatives have gone on the record over the past 48 hours to stress that the proposed unity government's political platform does not recognize Israel's right to exist - one of three conditions set by the Quartet for ending financial sanctions imposed on the Palestinians since Hamas came to power.
The three, Syria-based Musa Abu Marzouk, Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad and Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, strongly denied reports in the Arab media according to which the unity government would recognize Israel.
"We reject the two-state vision of [US President George W.] Bush," Barhoum said. "This would mean recognition of Israel and we are not going to recognize Israel. We have said in very clear terms that Hamas will not participate in a government that recognizes Israel. This position is not going to change. We will not recognize the two-state solution and Israel."
Hamad, for his part, said no one asked Hamas to recognize Israel during the negotiations over the formation of a unity government.
"Even the Palestinian president [Abbas] did not make such a demand," he said. "The unity government's political platform will be based on the national reconciliation document [that was drafted earlier this year by leading Palestinian prisoners and that does not explicitly recognize Israel]."
Meanwhile, sources in Ramallah said that Abbas, who held talks in Cairo Tuesday with Jordan's King Abdullah, would return to the Gaza Strip later this week with the hope that he would be able to finally sign an agreement with Hamas on the unity government. Abbas is on a two-day visit to Jordan and Egypt to discuss the case of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit and the possibility of conducting a prisoner exchange with Israel.
According to the sources, Abbas is scheduled to hold secret talks during his visit with Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian security officials on the fate of Shalit. Abbas has expressed hope that Shalit will be released before the formation of the unity government in the coming days or weeks.
Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was quoted by the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat as claiming that Israel remained opposed to the idea of a prisoner exchange with Hamas.
"Israel is talking to a number of European mediators, but so far there have been no practical results," he said.
Fatah and Hamas negotiators are in a race against time to work out a deal on the unity government and have been holding meetings in Gaza City over the past few days. The two parties are hoping that, barring last minute obstacles, the final agreement will be announced next weekend or sometime before the end of the month.
Hamas will receive at least 10 portfolios in the new government, but has agreed to relinquish control over prestigious and influential ministries such as the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry. Fatah is expected to receive six ministries, while the remaining 10 portfolios will go to other coalition members like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the People's [Communist] Party.