Abbas and Hamas face off over recognizing cabinet

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has warned Hamas that he won't approve its new cabinet unless it recognizes all agreements signed with Israel, sources close to Hamas said over the weekend. Hamas was planning to announce its new cabinet on Monday, but backtracked following Abbas's threat. Abbas delivered the warning to Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh during their meeting in Gaza City on Friday, the sources said. Hamas leaders here and in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post that Abbas's warning has triggered a crisis that will delay the formation of the new cabinet. "We were surprised by Abbas's condition for approving the new cabinet," said a senior Hamas official. "Abbas wants us to endorse the third article in his letter of appointment [to Haniyeh], which calls for honoring all agreements signed with Israel. He wants a public commitment by Hamas before he approves the new cabinet." Another top Hamas official told the Post that the meeting between Abbas and Haniyeh was "very tense." He accused Abbas of trying to dictate to Hamas conditions that were not in line with its political platform. "Abbas said that all the Palestinian ministers must be prepared to hold meetings in the future with Israeli officials," the official said. "Abbas has apparently forgotten that Hamas won the parliamentary election." Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused unnamed PA officials of seeking to drive a wedge between Abbas and Haniyeh. He also denied reports that Abbas had rejected the new cabinet's program that was presented to him by Haniyeh. "Reports about increased tensions between Abbas and Haniyeh are untrue," Abu Zuhri said. "Some senior officials are inciting and spreading false reports." Hamas legislator Said Siam said Haniyeh handed Abbas a written document outlining the new cabinet's program. "Abbas said he would study it and reply within a few days," he said. "The ball is now in Abbas's court. I don't know if we can call this a crisis." However, Azzam al-Ahmed, a top Fatah official and legislator, described Haniyeh's letter as "ambiguous." Ahmed, who attended the meeting between Abbas and Haniyeh, said the two sides remained divided over the political program of the cabinet. "We have two different political agendas," he noted. Siam said that relations between the prime minister and the PA chairman would not be affected even if the Fatah party does not join a Hamas-led cabinet. "We were elected by a majority and we will work toward implementing our program," he added. "If others want to cooperate with us, it's fine." Hamas officials said Abbas gave Haniyeh an additional two weeks to form the cabinet. Khaled Suleiman, a spokesman for the Hamas parliamentary bloc, said his movement would hold more talks with representatives of various factions this week to persuade them to join the new coalition. "It's not clear at this stage when the new cabinet will be announced," he said. "It's also premature to talk about a national unity cabinet." He said the only two groups that have agreed so far to join the Hamas cabinet are the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Mustafa Barghouti's Independent Palestine List. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the People's [Communist] Party have agreed in principle to join the cabinet, but have not yet given a final reply. In another sign of growing tensions between Hamas and Fatah, the new administration of the Palestinian Legislative Council accused some employees of forging the protocols of the last session of the outgoing council, which was held on February 13. The accusation came after the PLC speaker, Abdel Aziz Dweik (Hamas), discovered major differences between the written protocol and the recording of the session. On Thursday, Dweik ordered the council employees, who are all affiliated with Fatah, not to leave the building after work, pending the completion of the investigation. In response, the employees condemned Dweik's decision and urged the PA leadership to put an end to the power struggle in the council.