Abbas asks Syria and Qatar to put pressure on Hamas

Despite reports of a major breakthrough in the coalition talks, recognition of Israel is still a major sticking point.

Abbas haniyeh 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
Abbas haniyeh 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has once again appealed to Syria and Qatar to use their relationships with Hamas to resolve the ongoing crisis surrounding the formation of a Palestinian unity government, PA officials here said Sunday. The officials also said the proposed coalition would not be dominated by technocrats, but by representatives of Hamas and Fatah. "We're no longer talking about a government of independents and technocrats, but a Hamas-Fatah government that would also include other political and academic figures, as well as representatives of at least three political factions," the officials said. Despite reports of a major breakthrough in the coalition talks, sources close to Hamas and Fatah said Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas were still unable to agree on basic issues such as recognition of Israel's right to exist and honoring agreements between the PLO and Israel. Abbas and Haniyeh held a series of lengthy meetings in Gaza City over the past 48 hours, but were unable to bridge the gap between them, one PA official told The Jerusalem Post. "It's not as easy as we thought it was," the official said. "Hamas wants assurances that the international community will resume financial aid to the Palestinians as soon as the unity government is announced. Of course this is something that President Abbas cannot promise before the government takes office," he said. Another official said Hamas remains adamantly opposed to Abbas's demand that the political platform of the unity government recognize Israel and all agreements that were signed between Palestinians and Israelis. "Hamas is not prepared to make any political concessions," he said. "All they are offering at this stage is a long-term hudna [temporary truce] with Israel." On Saturday night, Abbas met with Muhammad Shbair, Hamas's choice to head a unity government, and listened to plans for the future. The US-educated Shbair is a former president of the Islamic University in Gaza City. Although he's not formally a member of Hamas, Shbair's views are very close to those of the Islamist movement. During the meeting, which was also attended by Haniyeh and several Hamas and Fatah officials, Abbas phoned Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and urged them to pressure Hamas to soften its positions regarding a unity government. Both Syria and Qatar maintain strong relations with the Hamas leadership abroad, especially with its Damascus-based leader, Khaled Mashaal. Abbas has also decided to dispatch former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei to Damascus for urgent talks with Mashaal and Syrian officials. Haniyeh told reporters Sunday that the talks with Abbas were "tough" and that the two parties needed more time to work out the problematic issues. "We are continuing with our in-depth and serious discussions, but these talks are tough on some issues," he said. "We need more time and efforts." In a related development, independent legislator Mustapha Barghouti, who is mediating between Hamas and Fatah, said the proposed unity government would be dissolved if the international community failed to lift the financial sanctions imposed on the PA. "If the international siege is not lifted within hours of the formation of the unity government, then this government will cease to exist and the Hamas government will return to power," Barghouti told reporters. "The purpose of forming the unity government is to persuade the international community to remove the sanctions. If this goal is not achieved after the formation of the unity government, then it will cease to exist."