(photo credit: AP)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh played down Israel's decision to halt the transfer of monthly tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, saying such measures won't scare the Palestinians.
Haniyeh's tough talk came a day before he was scheduled to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas was scheduled to meet with Haniyeh in Gaza on Monday and formally ask him to assemble a Cabinet, a task Haniyeh would have five weeks to complete.
Abbas said the PA was facing a "real financial crisis," adding that he was working toward ending Israeli sanctions. Abbas arrived in the Gaza Strip on Sunday night for talks with Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders on the formation of a new cabinet.
Speaking to reporters at his home in Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip shortly after Hamas nominated him as its candidate for the post of PA Prime Minister, a defiant Haniyeh said: "These [Israeli] measures won't frighten our people and the new cabinet. We are capable of dealing with future challenges as we have done in the past. Our people won't succumb."
Haniyeh condemned the Israeli Cabinet's decision as an attempt to "bypass the will and democratic choice of the Palestinian people."
Khaled Suleiman, a spokesman for Hamas in the West Bank, told The Jerusalem Post
that Israel would be held responsible for the "big vacuum" resulting from the collapse of a Hamas cabinet. "The Israeli measures are unjustified," he complained. "Hamas was elected in a democratic process and in accordance with the road map."
A senior PA official here revealed that some European countries and international organizations had suspended financial aid to several projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the aftermath of Hamas's victory in the January 25 parliamentary election. He said the governments of Denmark and Holland were the first to freeze the funding of projects.
"The Palestinians are paying a heavy price for electing Hamas," he said. "The financial and economic embargo could trigger a new wave of violence. The situation is very dangerous."
Another official expressed deep concern that cutting off financial aid to the Palestinians would play into the hands of Hamas. "Such punitive measures will drive more people into the open arms of Hamas," he cautioned. "This is a big mistake."
PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh dismissed Israel's decision to freeze the payment of tax revenues as "hasty and unacceptable." He also warned that the move could jeopardize the unofficial truce with Israel.
"Israel should wait until the establishment of a Palestinian cabinet before imposing sanctions," he said.
A Hamas delegation led by Mahmoud Zahar, the movement's top leader in the Gaza Strip, will begin talks on Monday with representatives of various political factions over the formation of a new cabinet. Hamas leaders have expressed a desire to form a coalition with Abbas's Fatah party.
However, the majority of Fatah leaders are strongly opposed to joining a Hamas-led cabinet, saying they prefer to function as an opposition party in parliament.
"We want a cabinet that will preserve national unity," Haniyeh said. "We will negotiate with all factions before we present the new cabinet to parliament for approval."
He said his cabinet's platform would focus on political, economic, security and reform issues. "Our cabinet will adopt a policy of openness toward the international community," he added. "We hope the world will support our people's rights."