Palestinian Authority Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh on Sunday night presented the new Hamas cabinet, which does not include factions other than Hamas, to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
"I met with President Abu Mazen [Abbas], and I handed him the official list of the names of the members of the cabinet," Haniyeh told reporters after the meeting in Gaza City. "He saw all the names and we talked about the next measures such as convening the Palestinian Legislative Council for a vote of confidence."
Haniyeh described the meeting as "positive and cordial," adding that the formation of the new cabinet would bring "constitutional stability." Asked if Abbas had accepted the line-up, Haniyeh said: "The president said that he will study the names and the program of the cabinet, but I can say that the trend is positive."
Haniyeh refused to reveal the names of all his ministers. However, he confirmed that Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar would serve as foreign minister, while Said Siam, a top political leader of the Islamic movement, would be in charge of the Interior Ministry.
He said the cabinet consists of 24 ministers, 14 of them from the West Bank and the others from the Gaza Strip. "We will have one woman, one Christian and many professionals and technocrats," he said. "We are optimistic about this cabinet."
The lone woman in the cabinet, Mariam Saleh from El-Bireh, told AP after Haniyeh's announcement that she would be "in the service of women."
Abbas said after the meeting that he was planning to present the new cabinet to the PLO executive committee for approval within the next 48 hours.
"I received the names," he said. "Within 24 or 48 hours we will hold a meeting of the PLO executive committee to brief its members on the latest developments. Later, we will convene the parliament for a vote of confidence in the cabinet. May God help us; this is not an easy task and there are many difficulties."
Abbas declined to comment on the political program of the Hamas cabinet, saying the issue would be discussed by the PLO leaders soon.
Salah Bardawil, a Hamas spokesman, said his movement had made "some" amendments in its political program in a bid to persuade other factions to participate in the cabinet. But, he added, "We have no intention of endorsing the political program of other factions."
The new finance minister is Omar Abdel Razek, 47, a lecturer from Salfit near Nablus. Razek was released last week after spending 85 days in Israeli detention. He said he was detained because he was in charge of the finances of Hamas's Change and Reform parliamentary list. He added that the interrogators wanted to know the sources of funding for Hamas's electoral campaign.
Haniyeh chose Nasser Eddin Shaer, a relatively moderate Islamic studies professor at an-Najah University, to serve as his deputy. Shaer, 48, will essentially serve as prime minister of the West Bank, because Israel has barred Haniyeh from traveling out of the Gaza Strip, where he lives.
Shaer was released earlier this month from an Israeli prison where he was incarcerated for five months. He said he would also serve as education minister.
Earlier, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in a surprise move, decided not to join the Hamas cabinet. The PFLP, which has three seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, was the only group that had originally agreed to join the new cabinet.
"We have decided not to join the cabinet because its political platform does not refer to the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," said Kayed al-Ghoul, a top PFLP official. "Hamas's refusal to recognize agreements signed by the PLO and Israel was also another factor. We believe this is necessary in the wake of conspiracies to eliminate the Palestinian issue."
Hamas expressed "astonishment" at the PFLP position and described it as "unjustified." Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri dismissed the PFLP's claim that the cabinet's political program does not recognize the PLO.
"Hamas has stressed that it would abide by the truce agreement that was reached in Cairo last year with the PLO," he explained. "Hamas was hoping that the PFLP and other factions would respect the Palestinians' desire to see a broad coalition so that we could face the huge challenges."
Abu Zuhri hinted that the real reason behind the PFLP's position could be US pressure on Palestinian factions to stay away from the Hamas cabinet.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said Hamas's political program, which calls for pursuing the fight against "Israeli occupation" and the right of return for all refugees, would further increase the isolation of the Palestinians, exposing them to collective punishment by the international community.
"This program does not comply with the requirements of the international community," he said. "Hamas's problem is not with us, but with the international community which has clear political demands."
PA negotiator Saeb Erekat pointed out that the PA's Basic Law states that the prime minister's task is to implement the general policies of the PA. "The new cabinet must honor all previous agreements. Otherwise, it will be an illegal cabinet," he said.
Erekat said Hamas had not other choice but to honor all the agreements that were signed by the PLO. "Hamas can't ignore the political program of the president," he added. "If they don't accept this, we will have two authorities with different political agendas."
Political analyst Hani al-Masri said Hamas's political program violates international law, which requires governments to honor previous agreements signed by former governments. "Governments change constantly, whether through elections or coups, but agreements remain," he said. "What Hamas is doing is tantamount to a political coup."