Senior advisor to Abbas: Differences arose on distribution of portfolios, number of ministries.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Talks between Hamas and Fatah over the formation of a unity government have been suspended because of the failure of the two parties to resolve their differences, Nabil Amr, a senior advisor to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced Monday.
Amr said the major differences between the two sides centered on the distribution of the cabinet portfolios, the number of ministries and control over Palestinian embassies and diplomatic missions.
Amr's announcement came following three days of unsuccessful talks in Gaza City between Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Following the announcement, a war of words erupted between Hamas and Fatah, with each side blaming the other for the deadlock.
An angry Abbas on Monday told leaders of various Palestinian factions that he was fed up with Hamas's "maneuvers and lies." He said he would soon be forced to take drastic measures to end the crisis in the PA, hinting at the possibility of firing the Hamas-led government and calling early elections.
Abbas also urged the factions to declare a temporary and unilateral cease-fire so as not to provide Israel with an excuse to continue its military operations in the Gaza Strip.
Abbas later flew to Saudi Arabia, where he is expected to seek the backing of the Saudi government in the showdown with Hamas.
"President Abbas will brief the Saudi leadership on the failure of his talks with Hamas," said a senior PA official in Ramallah. "The Saudis could help by exerting pressure on the Hamas leadership in Syria."
Former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei, who was dispatched over the weekend by Abbas to Damascus, met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and urged him to soften his position regarding the formation of a unity government. Qurei also met with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara and handed him a letter from Abbas to President Bashar Assad.
According to Amr, Abbas has issued an ultimatum to Hamas to accept his proposals for the formation of a unity government by the end of this week.
"President Abbas told the Hamas leaders that he expects a positive response from them upon his return from Saudi Arabia," he said.
Asked about Abbas's options in the event that Hamas insisted on its position, Amr said: "There are many other options, but the preferred option right now is national unity. But this does not mean that the ineffective talks will continue forever."
Amr revealed that the main stumbling block was over control of Palestinian embassies and diplomatic missions, as well as top jobs in the PA establishment such as governors of districts. The Palestinian diplomatic corps has long been controlled by Abbas's Fatah party. In addition, all the governors in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are members of Fatah.
"Hamas is demanding an end to the hegemony of Fatah in these jobs," Amr said. "We don't believe that any faction has a monopoly on these jobs."
Amr, a former PA minister of information, said Abbas and Haniyeh agreed that Prof. Muhammed Shbair, an academic from the Gaza Strip, would head a unity government. "He is the Hamas candidate and President Abbas has accepted him," he said.
"We have already wasted a lot of time on the unity government talks and we must start moving forward because we need to end the international sanctions. Our people are tired of hearing about the Hamas-Fatah talks and the world wants to see tangible results on the ground," Amr said.
A top Fatah official in the West Bank told The Jerusalem Post that Abbas had stormed out of a meeting with Haniyeh on Sunday, accusing the Hamas leadership of behaving "in a childish and irresponsible" manner. According to the official, Abbas was furious because Hamas insisted that its members take over the interior and finance ministries in the proposed unity government.
Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Fatah parliamentary list, said the only way out of the crisis was for the Haniyeh government to resign immediately.
"As long as the Hamas government is in power, there will be no progress on the unity talks," he said. "Hamas does not want political partnership and we must stop wasting our time."
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