(photo credit: AP)
Embattled Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is under growing pressure to resign and dissolve the PA following Tuesday's IDF raid on the Jericho prison and the arrest of the assassins of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi.
The pressure came as Hamas leaders announced on Thursday that they had completed the formation of a new cabinet, which could be announced early next week.
It also coincided with a letter sent by Ahmed Saadat, the imprisoned leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in which he held the PA responsible for the raid. The letter was published on Thursday by a Palestinian human rights group, which did not say how it obtained it.
Thirteen Palestinian academics and politicians signed a petition holding Abbas personally responsible for what happened in Jericho and calling on him to resign immediately.
The petition described the IDF raid and the arrest of Saadat and his friends as a "horrific humiliation," referring specifically to the surrender of scores of PA policemen after stripping to their underwear.
"It was a very disgraceful and humiliating scene," the petition noted. "Those responsible for this humiliation are those who originally placed these policemen in such a situation through a shameful agreement."
The petition pointed out that in Gaza City, PA policemen had opened fire at a group demonstrating against the IDF raid, killing one and wounding several others.
The group lashed out at Abbas for failing to release Saadat and his friends before the raid. "Mr. Abbas had a full year to release the prisoners, but he failed to do so," they wrote. "He also missed an opportunity to release them after the Hamas victory in the last parliamentary election."
The group urged Abbas to display "courage and clarity" and to step down.
On Wednesday, dozens of Fatah activists from the West Bank signed another petition calling on Abbas to resign and dissolve the PA.
Taysir Nasrallah, a senior Fatah operative and one of the driving forces behind the initiative, said that in light of the latest developments, there was no justification for the continued existence of the PA.
"We are all now under occupation," he said. "So why shouldn't the occupation pay the price for its continued control over us? The only thing the PA does today is pay salaries to civil servants."
Outgoing Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei dismissed the calls and accused Israel of seeking to undermine the PA. "The Palestinian Authority is not satisfied with what happened in Jericho," he said. "The US can take a more decisive position against settlements and the separation wall."
Hamas spokesman As'ad Farhat also rejected demands to dissolve the PA. "What happened in Jericho was not because of the presence of the Palestinian Authority, but as a result of unjust agreements and the wrong negotiating methods which need to be corrected," he said.
"We must now focus on ways of facing the Israeli aggression. What happened proves that the agreements that were signed with Israel were wrong. We need to repair our political system."
PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat on Thursday delivered a message to the US and British consulates in Jerusalem in which he accused Israel of seeking to destroy the PA.
"The Israeli government does not want a Palestinian partner," he said. "The crime that Israel perpetrated in Jericho is the first step toward destroying the Palestinian Authority. They want a partner who will give up the rights of the refugees and Jerusalem."
Meanwhile, Hamas officials said on Thursday that they were ready to present their cabinet on Monday, noting that coalition talks with Fatah and other parties had failed.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah legislator who oversaw the talks with Hamas, said Fatah was unlikely to join the Hamas-led cabinet, as the gap between the two remained as wide as ever.