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US opposition to the proposed Palestinian Authority national unity government is threatening to foil attempts by Fatah and Hamas to reach a final agreement on the political program of the new government, PA and Hamas officials said Thursday.
They said some European and Arab countries also had reservations about the agreement that was reached earlier this week between PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
"The Europeans are unhappy with the agreement because of its failure to meet the conditions set by the Quartet for dealing with the Palestinian government," said one official. "In addition, Jordan and Egypt don't like the idea that Haniyeh is touted to head the unity government."
Abbas was supposed to issue a "presidential decree" on Thursday dissolving the Hamas-led cabinet and asking Haniyeh to form a unity government, but decided to postpone the move because of the reaction of the Americans and Europeans. He is scheduled to arrive in the Gaza Strip this weekend for additional talks with Haniyeh on the formation of the unity government.
"The US administration does not want the Palestinians to be united," Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza City. "They are placing obstacles on the road to the political rapprochement between us because they want to extort the Palestinian people and the government."
Haniyeh hinted that some European countries had also voiced their opposition to the unity government.
"There are voices in the international community that are also trying to obstruct our efforts to achieve national unity," he said. "We urge the European Union to be more balanced and fair in dealing with our people and their democratically elected government."
Hamas officials expressed fear that Abbas had changed his mind and was no longer planning to ask Haniyeh to head the unity government.
"We understand that the president has come under immense pressure not to ask Haniyeh to serve as prime minister of the national unity government," said one official. "Sadly, some of the pressure is coming from Arab countries like Jordan and Egypt."
According to the official, US, EU and Arab representatives who met with Abbas over the past few days urged him to fire the current government and to establish a Fatah-led emergency cabinet that would run the affairs of the Palestinians until new elections.
More than 48 hours after Abbas and Haniyeh announced that they had reached an agreement on the formation of a national unity coalition, the political program of the unity government remained shrouded in mystery.
While Abbas and his Fatah party maintain that there is a program that explicitly recognizes Israel's right to exist, Hamas insists that the only program they know is the "national reconciliation" document that was drafted earlier this year by some Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
On Thursday, Hamas and Fatah officials admitted that the two sides still haven't reached a full agreement on a joint political program.
Former PA minister Nabil Amr (Fatah) ruled out the possibility that the unity government would win the backing of the US and the Europeans.
"The prisoners' document, which both Hamas and Fatah have endorsed, is unacceptable to the Quartet and that's why we're going to face difficulties," he said.
Jamil Majdalawi, a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - one of the groups that are expected to join the unity government - said most Palestinians still didn't know anything about the political guidelines of the proposed government.
"We heard that Abbas and Haniyeh have endorsed the prisoners' document, but they never presented it as the program of the unity government," he said. "The Europeans and some Arab countries know here what's happening with the unity government more than the people here."
PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said all the factions were not interested in power and positions as much as lifting the international sanctions imposed on the Palestinians since Hamas took over.
"It's too early to make judgments about the unity government," he said. "We are making intensive efforts to reach an agreement on a political program that would be acceptable to the international community."