By KHALED ABU TOAMEH, AP
Acknowledging that he has failed to enforce law and order and improve the economy in the Palestinian territories, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas nevertheless said on Tuesday that he has no intention to resign.
"Many things have not been achieved since I was elected two years ago, especially in the field of economic prosperity and security, but I'm not thinking of resigning and I won't leave the job unless I die," Abbas was quoted by the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper as saying.
"I will remain president until the end of my term."
Meanwhile, Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal threatened on Tuesday that Hamas would kidnap more IDF soldiers if Israel does not free all Palestinian prisoners.
In an interview with Hamas radio station Voice of al Aksa, Mashaal added the kidnappers would stick to their demands until Israel "emptied them of their substance."
The Hamas leader-in-exile also called for an establishment of a Palestinian Authority unity government on the basis of the prisoners' document but stressed that such a government must not adhere to the demands of the international quartet.
Abbas told the paper that he demanded that Hamas hand over to him kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit so that he could negotiate with Israel the conditions for his release. "I have conditioned the formation of a unity government with the release of the Israeli soldier," he said. "I told them [Hamas]: 'Give me the soldier and I will hold negotiations about our prisoners.' Israel is prepared to give me more prisoners."
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said in a TV interview that Israel had agreed in principle to a prisoner exchange with the Palestinians. "But Israel is placing many obstacles by refusing to release certain prisoners," he claimed.
Abbas's remarks came as his attempts to persuade Hamas to agree to a unity government with his Fatah party appeared to face difficulties. PA and Hamas sources claimed earlier this week that the two parties were very close to reaching an agreement that would see Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh step down in favor of an independent figure.
The paper also quoted Abbas as strongly denying that he was trying to convince Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. "This is not the case," he said. "We're only talking about the conditions set by the Quartet [for resuming financial aid to the Palestinians] and the previous commitments made by the PLO."
Any new Palestinian government, he explained, must accept the Arab peace plan of 2002 and United Nations resolutions because this will lead to the lifting of the financial sanctions imposed on the Palestinians.
In a veiled warning to Hamas, Abbas said the Islamic movement was wrong in assuming that its government is untouchable.
"They think that because the government was elected, no one can do anything against it," he added. "But I want to tell them that this government was appointed by me and it is not untouchable."
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum confirmed on Tuesday that Haniyeh has agreed to give up his post to allow the formation of a unity government. "The new prime minister will not be from Hamas, although we will be the ones to decide on the identity of the candidate," Barhoum said.
He added that Abbas and Haniyeh were very close to striking a deal and that negotiations between the two would continue in the coming days to reach a final agreement. "President Abbas has promised to work to lift the international
sanctions and release all the Hamas ministers and legislators who are being held in Israel after an agreement is reached on a unity government," he said.
Sources close to Abbas confirmed that he had reached an initial agreement with Haniyeh on the proposed unity government, but noted that the two still haven't decided on the identity of the new prime minister. "Hamas will have the right to nominate its own candidate for the premiership," the sources said. "But the new prime minister will not be a Hamas leader."
According to the sources, the names of several candidates who are closely associated with Hamas have been mentioned in recent days for the job. They include Jamal al-Khudari, an independent legislator from the Gaza Strip who was backed by Hamas in the parliamentary election, Samir Abu Aisheh, the current Minister of Planning who is affiliated with Hamas but not a member of the movement, Dr. Muhammed Shabir, former president of the Islamic University in Gaza City andBassem Naim, Minister of Health in the present government.
Meanwhile, a public opinion poll published on Tuesday by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion showed that that pessimism is rising among the Palestinians about the possibility of improving their economic and political conditions.
According to the poll, which covered some 1,000 Palestinians, 62.3% said they were now pessimistic, while 80.9% are worried about the naked subsistence of their families at present.
Nabil Kukali, director of the Bet Sahour-based center, said that compared with the outcome of a former poll published a year ago, one can perceive that the rate of the pessimists in the Palestinian territories has increased by 33.2%.
Kukali added that two-thirds of the Palestinian people evaluated their economic conditions as 'bad,' showing an increase of 24.8 % compared with the outcome of last year's poll. He added that more than 60 % of the Palestinians hold the United States, Israel and other donor countries responsible for the deterioration of the economic conditions in the Palestinian territories.
He said the results of the latest survey "should be taken very seriously because they abundantly show the dreadful extent of the recession that the economic and living conditions have experienced."
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