Palestinian Authority representatives on Sunday appealed to Hamas to stop issuing "provocative" statements about the agreement that was reached in Mecca last week. The call followed statements by a number of Hamas spokesmen who wished to make it clear that the agreement did not require Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. PA officials in Ramallah expressed fear that the statements would sabotage efforts to persuade the international community to accept the Mecca deal and resume financial aid to the Palestinians.
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Similar remarks by Hamas leaders led to the collapse of another agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas last October.
Two senior Hamas officials, Ahmed Yusef and Ismail Radwan, were quoted over the weekend as denying reports in the Arab media according to which Hamas had effectively recognized Israel by signing the Mecca agreement.
"These statements show that some people in Hamas are trying to torpedo the agreement," said a senior Fatah official here. "This is a very sensitive period because the whole world is still studying the agreement."
PLO executive committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is closely associated with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, criticized the Hamas officials, saying their remarks "played into the hands of Israeli right-wingers."
The remarks, he explained, didn't serve the interests of the Palestinians "because they add fuel to the fire. If the Hamas leaders don't have anything positive to say, then they should at least shut their mouths."
Despite the optimism voiced by both Hamas and Fatah in the aftermath of the agreement, a top PA official here told The Jerusalem Post that the two sides had yet to agree on the identity of the ministers who would serve in the coalition.
According to the official, Abbas and Fatah have rejected Hamas's candidate for the Interior Ministry portfolio, Hamoud Jarwan, on the grounds that he was "unsuitable." Jarwan, a former head of the PA's "military courts" in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, enjoys good relations with both Hamas and Fatah.
Radwan, the Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, confirmed that Abbas was opposed to the appointment of Jarwan.
"Abbas has asked Hamas to search for another person who is more acceptable to all parties," he said. "Hamas is not going to make a big deal out of this because, under the terms of the Mecca agreement, we have the right to present our own candidate for the post."
Another PA official told the Post that Hamas had informed Abbas that it would not agree to the appointment of Fatah legislator Muhammad Dahlan as deputy prime minister. The Mecca agreement calls for the appointment of a Fatah representative as deputy prime minister in a Hamas-led unity government.
"They still don't trust Dahlan and are convinced that he's working with the US and Israel against Hamas," the official said, pointing out that Hamas has the right to veto any candidate. "The negotiations over the formation of the unity government, which will begin in the coming days, are expected to be very difficult."
Meanwhile, Abbas said Sunday that Israel must accept the agreement he reached last week in Mecca with Hamas.
Speaking to reporters in Amman after meeting with Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit, Abbas said in response to a question about the position of Israel toward the Mecca agreement: "We don't know exactly what their reactions will be, but whatever their reactions are, this is a Palestinian issue and Arab issue and the Israelis have to deal with it."
Abbas said he was planning upon his return home to ask PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas to head a new Palestinian unity government.
Earlier in the day, Abbas visited Cairo, where he briefed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the details of the Mecca agreement.
Abbas later told reporters that he was looking forward to the February 19 summit with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, expressing hope that the talks would jump-start the Middle East peace process.
The planned tripartite summit, he said, would "lay the features of the road to start the permanent peace process."
He also said the meeting would help the Quartet members play a more active role in promoting peace in the region during their meeting in Berlin later this month. Abbas said he would also raise with Olmert and Rice the construction work on a ramp leading to the Mughrabi Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.
"Such acts are regretful and condemned in the entire world and we do not accept them," he said. "Every now and then Israel carries out work on the ground in Jerusalem in an attempt to alter its demographic and geographic status."