Hamas cabinet ministers resign

Seen as step toward PA unity government; Abbas plans to revive road map.

abbas Kaczynski 298.88 (photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli)
abbas Kaczynski 298.88
(photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli)
Palestinian Cabinet ministers from Hamas handed in their resignations late Wednesday, a step toward forming a unity government with the moderate Fatah, a government official said, in hopes of restoring vital foreign aid. Government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said in a statement that the ministers handed their portfolios over to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader. This is the first procedural step toward formation of the new unity government. The next one would be Haniyeh's handing in his resignation to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who would then pick a candidate to form a new government - probably Haniyeh. Hamad said in his statement, "All the ministers have placed their ministerial portfolios under the authority of the prime minister, as a way of easing the path toward forming a national unity government." Abbas said earlier Wednesday that he planned to send a Palestinian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly session next week to revive the long-stalled 'road map' peace plan. "We want to revive the road map at the United Nations," Abbas said during a televised news conference with Polish President Lech Kaczynski in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "We're all for the restarting of the road map," Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said, adding that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke about revitalizing the peace plan over the weekend with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The internationally backed road map, a staged plan that calls for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, was launched by US President George W. Bush at a summit in Aqaba, Jordan, in June 2003. Abbas's decision came two days after Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government. Hamas officials said Tuesday they would not object to Abbas restarting peace talks with Israel. However, Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip stressed on Tuesday that the political program of the proposed Palestinian unity government does not include any explicit or implicit recognition of Israel's right to exist. Shortly after the agreement over the formation of a national unity government was reached, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah officials had said that, as far as they were concerned, Hamas had indirectly recognized Israel. They explained that the political guidelines of the proposed unity government, which endorsed the decisions of the 2002 Arab summit in Beirut, were tantamount to recognizing Israel's right to exist. However, a statement issued by Hamas on Tuesday stated: "The political program of the unity government does not contain any explicit or implicit recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity. Nor does it include any concession on Hamas's principles and positions. Hamas will continue to abide by its own program, especially regarding the resistance and the refusal to recognize Israel." Meanwhile, Hamas denied that Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had reached an agreement on the identity of the ministers who were expected to serve in the unity government. "It's premature to talk about the distribution of cabinet portfolios," Haniyeh told reporters. "We will hold consultations with all the factions before we announce the name of the ministers." Asked if the new government would negotiate with Israel, Haniyeh said this was not in the jurisdiction of the government. "The PLO is responsible for the negotiations [with Israel], not the government," he said. Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-led government, said the unity government's political program would be based on the "national reconciliation" document that was drafted earlier this year by a number of leading Palestinian political prisoners held in Israel. Another Hamas representative, Sami Abu Zuhri, said his movement accepted the prisoners' document only after it was amended so as not to include any mention of Israel's right to exist. "The changes that were introduced make it clear that there will be no recognition of Israel," he said. As for recognizing United Nations resolutions related to the Israeli-Arab conflict, Abu Zuhri said that Hamas was prepared to "deal" with these resolutions but not necessarily accept them. The Abbas-Haniyeh agreement triggered a wave of rumors and speculation about the identity of the ministers who would serve in the unity government. According to some reports, the new government, which is to be headed by Haniyeh, will consist of seven Hamas members, four Fatah officials, two representatives of the Third Way Party, one from the National Initiative Party and another two from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Another report claimed that Hanan Ashrawi would take over as foreign minister while Salaam Fayad was expected to return to his former job as finance minister. The report quoted Palestinian sources as saying that former interior minister Nasser Youssef was also expected to return to his post. However, all three denied the reports and said they had not been approached by anyone yet. AP contributed to this report