(photo credit: AP [file])
Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader in exile, met Thursday in Cairo with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa and held a separate meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit. Mashaal's meetings focused on developments regarding the new unity government being formed, as well as the Mecca agreement on which it is based.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Ahmed Youssef, a political adviser to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said members of the various factions were meeting with Haniyeh to form the new government.
Youssef added that Hamoud Jarwani, a relatively unknown senior security official, is being discussed for the difficult-to-fill position of interior minister. This position has been a sticking point between Fatah and Hamas because of its control over security forces.
A resolution regarding this position is likely to expedite the process of forming a government. Officials say Haniyeh is working to have the government ready by next week.
Jarwani's name has come up in the past for a ministerial position. Youssef described him as "a clean" individual with "a strong background."
Yousef also confirmed reports that Salam Fayad has been officially designated to return to the post he had previously held as finance minister. It is likely that Ziad abu Amr will be foreign minister, although he has not received an official appointment yet.
Hamas would prefer to make the coalition as wide as possible, to include other Palestinian factions. So far, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has refused to join the government. Islamic Jihad, which did not run for parliament, is also rejecting the new government.
The newspaper Al Quds al Arabi reported Thursday that Nasser al-Qudweh, nephew of the late Yasser Arafat, and the former PLO representative to the UN, is being supported by Fatah for the position of deputy prime minister. Government officials said this appointment would make sense, as Qudweh is based in the West Bank and Haniyeh in Gaza. But there was no formal confirmation of the report.
Fawzi Barhoum, a government spokesman, said Mashaal's visit to Cairo was aimed at garnering support for the new government as well as for the Mecca agreement. Mashaal will also hope to influence foreign governments to "break the siege on the Palestinians," by recognizing the new cabinet and ending the international boycott of the Hamas-led PA.
Barhoum asserted that "there is a change in the position of the Quartet" toward the new government and said he was hopeful it would gain recognition in the international arena. The Quartet "is keeping the door open and waiting for the formation of the government" before it makes a decision on whether or not to continue with the boycott, he claimed. He said there was support for the new government from several European Union countries as well as Russia.
Although there was speculation that Mashaal would hold meetings in Cairo for a prisoner exchange deal to include kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit, it seems his main subject matters are internal Palestinian affairs including reform within the PLO, which Hamas has not yet joined.
Youssef, the political adviser, said "maybe" Mashaal would discuss a deal about Schalit with the Egyptians, who have been mediators in the prisoner-exchange negotiations.
In fact, Egypt may be feeling snubbed at the moment, as Saudi Arabia managed to grab the spotlight when it sponsored the Mecca meetings, even though Egypt had been leading the negotiations until that point.
Hala Mustafa, a political analyst at the Al Ahram Center in Cairo, told the Post Thursday there was "nothing new" in the Mashaal visit. Its main purpose was merely to update the Egyptians as to the internal Palestinian affairs. "I think Egypt is annoyed because it was marginalized" during the Mecca talks, she said.
Although Egypt was a main player in negotiating the Palestinian cease-fires and other deals that led to the Mecca meetings, the country and its leader only got only a small nod from Palestinians during the visit to the holy city.
In regards to Schalit, she said: "I don't expect a breakthrough on the prisoner exchange deal." His release "will depend on a comprehensive deal."
Mustafa, who is also the editor-in-chief of the quarterly Arabic-language Al Ahram Democracy View, suggested this could take place only once a Palestinian government had been formed and recognized.
She also felt Egypt had lost leverage over Palestinian political factions even before Mecca. She said Egypt did not have a clear political line, and now was focused mostly on technical security issues. Egypt does maintain a security delegation in Gaza.