Palestinian gov't unity may be delayed

Disagreements over interior minister appointment, prisoner swap stall talks.

By
November 18, 2006 02:28
2 minute read.
abbas 88 AP

abbas 88 AP. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Palestinian negotiators said Friday a hoped-for deal this week on a unity government could be delayed by difficulties in working out a parallel prisoner swap with Israel. The Palestinian president and premier, heading the rival Fatah and Hamas factions, have been trying to wrap up the deal in an effort to end the economic sanctions and pave the way for a resumption of long-frozen talks with Israel. The negotiations have been dragging on for months. President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, a moderate, has been pushing Hamas to enter a coalition with Fatah in hopes of ending the sanctions. He hopes the government to endorse a softer position to Israel that will enable him to resume peace talks. The concept is to replace the Cabinet of Hamas ministers with independent experts linked to, but not members of, the two movements. Abbas and his Palestine Liberation Organization would be charged with handling peace negotiations, while the Cabinet would deal with the daily affairs of the Palestinian areas. The negotiator, who took part in Thursday's meeting with Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not public. The two met again Friday. Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the current Hamas-led government, said a deal might take a bit longer to reach, but expressed optimism the sides would resolve their differences. A key sticking point is which party will appoint the interior minister, who oversees powerful security forces. Palestinian officials say the US, which has led international opposition to Hamas, and the European Union are ready to accept the united government. But in Washington, State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said it was too early to say. Despite the reported progress, Abbas has said he hopes to tie unity efforts to a broader deal that would see Israel release Palestinian prisoners, including several jailed Hamas Cabinet ministers and lawmakers, in return for the release of a captured Israeli soldier. Slow progress on such a deal could delay the creation of the new government. Israeli officials say there will be no prisoner release until the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, comes home. Israel has been conducting an offensive in the Gaza Strip since Shalit was kidnapped in a cross-border raid June 25. Earlier Friday, a senior Palestinian negotiator said The Hamas government will resign within two or three days to make way for a new unity government that could help end a punishing Western aid boycott and resume long-frozen peace talks with Israel. The negotiator took part Thursday in a nighttime meeting in Gaza where Abbas and Haniyeh of Hamas pressed forward with efforts to bring their rival factions together. Formation of a moderate Cabinet to replace the one headed by Hamas is an important plank in a new peace initiative offered Thursday by France and Spain, aimed at stopping constant Israel-Palestinian violence and moving toward peace negotiations. The object is to satisfy Western demands for a Palestinian leadership that recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts previous peace deals. At stake is vital foreign aid - hundreds of millions of dollars a year that have kept the Palestinian Authority afloat for the past decade.

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