Palestinian negotiator responds to Jerusalem Post report at start of Fatah-Hamas talks in Cairo.
By BRENDA GAZZAR
Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu should worry about fulfilling Israel's international obligations rather than concerning himself with what kind of government the Palestinian people choose to form, senior Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Erekat was responding to a report in Thursday's Post that Netanyahu would oppose talks with a PA government that included Hamas. One of Netanyahu's foreign policy advisers, Zalman Shoval, said the Likud chairman's diplomatic team would try to convince US leaders that a Palestinian unity government was a bad idea and should not be recognized, as it would strengthen Hamas and make it easier for other international players to deal with it.
"I can't stand guard on Netanyahu's lips or anyone else's lips, but I think that a Palestinian government and the formation of a national unity government is the business of the Palestinian people," Erekat told the Post. "And I think that any Palestinian government would have a program that would respect international legality and the rule of law and the commitments of the PLO."
"I hope that Netanyahu's adviser would just remind him, that in order for him to be a partner with the Palestinians and the international community, he must accept the two-state solution and agreements [previously] signed, and stop settlement activities, because that is where the international community is focusing now," Erekat said.
Those conditions must be met for Israel to be considered a partner for peace, he said.
"That is consistent with the road map, agreements signed [in the past] and other [international] resolutions," he said. "I really hope that Mr. Netanyahu's advisers remind him of his obligations, and leave our obligations to us."
Erekat added that any new PA government would have to be accepted by all the Palestinian factions. "We're doing our best to have a program of government that is consistent with international legality, Palestinian legality and Arab legality," he said.
On Thursday, the first day of a new round of Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks in Cairo, rival Palestinian factions agreed to form several committees to tackle thorny reconciliation issues, including the formation of an interim "national consensus government" that would pave the way for presidential and legislative elections.
About a dozen Palestinian factions approved the formation of six committees, which will also deal with reforming the PLO, reforming the PA security services and internal reconciliation.
The committees are slated to begin their work on March 10 and to submit their conclusions by March 20.
"It's a good beginning. The devil is in the details, and we hope things will progress in the right way," Erekat said.
The committee charged with forming a government is to decide whether the proposed PA government will be composed of technocrats, political factions and technocrats together, or a national unity government, Fatah official Ahmed Qurei told reporters at a press conference in Cairo.
The US and European countries have indicated they would prefer to deal with a government of technocrats to avoid dealing with Hamas.
Earlier on Thursday, Egypt urged all Palestinian factions to work to resolve their differences.
"Your people are looking forward to seeing the beginning of your unity," said Gen. Omar Sulieman, Egypt's intelligence head, in nationally televised comments.
Tensions between Hamas and Fatah escalated during Israel's recent offensive in Gaza.
Hamas claimed the government of PA President Mahmoud Abbas ran a Gaza spy ring that fed Israel information about Hamas targets during the operation. Abbas's Fatah accused Hamas of killing and wounding dozens of Fatah activists under the cover of the war.
Previous reconciliation talks fell apart in November when Hamas pulled out at the last minute after a dispute with Fatah over releasing Hamas prisoners.
Also on Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he was confident that tensions would not escalate between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Regarding the increasing of firing in recent days from the north of the Gaza Strip into Israel, Barak said he did not like the "dripping of the rockets and the mortars in the weeks following Cast Lead Operation, but I am certain we are heading to a quieter time."
Barak also reiterated his commitment to free abducted soldier Gilad Schalit. "The price will be painful and hard. I hope we will succeed in bringing him back before this government ends its tenure," he said.
He added that the Egyptians were a central element in Israel's struggle against smuggling of weapons to Gaza from Sinai.
Herb Keinon, Shelly Paz and AP contributed to this report.â€¢
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