Abbas: I won't resign 'unless I die'

Mashaal threatens more kidnappings; PA chairman tells Hamas to give him Shalit.

Haniyeh nice 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Haniyeh nice 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Acknowledging that he has failed to enforce law and order or to improve the economy in the Palestinian Authority, PA Chairman 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." Abbas told the paper that he had demanded that Hamas hand over control over Cpl. Gilad Shalit so that he could negotiate his release. "I have conditioned the formation of a unity government on 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 television interview that Israel had agreed in principle to a prisoner exchange. "But Israel is placing many obstacles by refusing to release certain prisoners," he said. Abbas's remarks came as his efforts to persuade Hamas to agree to a unity government with his Fatah party appeared to face renewed difficulties. PA and Hamas sources said earlier this week that the parties were very close to reaching an agreement that would see PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas 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 PA] and the previous commitments made by the PLO." Any new Palestinian government, he said, must accept the Arab League's peace plan of 2002 and Security Council resolutions because this would lead to the lifting of the financial sanctions imposed on the Palestinians. In a veiled warning to Hamas, Abbas said the Islamist movement was wrong in assuming that its government could not be dismissed. "They think that because the government was elected, no one can do anything against it," he said. "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 had agreed to give up his post to allow the formation of a coalition 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 said Abbas and Haniyeh were very close to striking a deal and that negotiations would continue in the coming days. "President Abbas has promised to work to lift the international sanctions and to 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 a preliminary agreement with Haniyeh on the proposed unity government, but said they had not 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, several candidates closely associated with Hamas have been suggested. They include Jamal al-Khudari, an independent legislator from the Gaza Strip who was backed by Hamas in the parliamentary election; PA Planning Minister Samir Abu Aisheh, who is affiliated with Hamas but not a member of the movement; Dr. Muhammad Shabir, former president of the Islamic University in Gaza City; and PA Health Minister Bassem Naim. In other news, a poll published on Tuesday by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion reported that pessimism was rising among Palestinians about the chances of an improvement in their economic and political situation. According to the survey, which covered some 1,000 people, 62.3 percent said they were now pessimistic, while 80.9% were worried about the very survival of their families. T. Nabil Kukali, director of the Bet Sahur-based center, said the proportion of pessimists in the Palestinian territories had increased by 33.2% from a year ago. Kukali said two-thirds of the respondents evaluated their financial condition as "bad," an increase of 24.8 percentage points compared to last year's poll. He said more than 60% of Palestinians hold the Israel, the US and other donor countries responsible for the deterioration in the economic situation in the Palestinian territories. The results of the latest survey "should be taken very seriously because they show in abundance the dreadful extent of the recession that economic and living conditions have undergone."