US-educated Prof. Muhammad Shabir accepts Fatah-Hamas nomination for prime minister.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH, JPOST STAFF, AP
Hamas won't recognize Israel even after a new national unity government takes power, the group said Tuesday, but suggested the emerging coalition would be free to stake out a more moderate position.
Hamas apparently hopes this ambiguity will allow it to preserve its anti-Israel ideology but open the door to an easing of crippling international sanctions, imposed to pressure the current, Hamas-led government to moderate. Despite the sanctions, Hamas has repeatedly rejected international demands to recognize Israel, renounce violence and respect past peace accords.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy to the Damascus-based Hamas political bureau leader Khaled Mashaal, said Monday night that the planned Palestinian unity government would not recognize Israel and was not required to.
The announcement came after Fatah and Hamas came to a groundbreaking agreement earlier Monday on the formation of a unity government after months of negotiations and setbacks.
Recognition of Israel has been one of the international community's requirements for any Palestinian government.
Mohammed Shabir's profile
Earlier, US-educated university professor Muhammad Shabir accepted the Palestinian government's offer to nominate him as the next prime minister, a Hamas official said Monday.
Fatah and Hamas negotiators had reportedly agreed to name Shbair as the new PA prime minister. Shbair's name appeared on a Hamas list of candidates for the premiership that was presented to PA Chairman Abbas last week.
Although Shbair is not formally a member of Hamas, he is regarded as being closely affiliated with the Islamist movement. For nearly 16 years, the father of six served as president of the Hamas-affiliated Islamic University in Gaza City.
"I don't belong to any Palestinian political faction," he said. "So far, I haven't received an official request to head the unity government. I'm prepared to take the job, but first I want to see what is required of me."
Shbair, whose father was one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood Organization in the Gaza Strip in the 1950s and 1960s, expressed hope that Fatah and Hamas would reach an agreement soon on the formation of a unity government so that the international community would resume financial aid to the Palestinians.
However, former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei, who has been holding intensive talks with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip on the formation of the unity government, said it was premature to talk about names of potential candidates for the premiership.
"I'm not aware of any list of names that was presented to President Abbas," he said. "The identity of the next prime minister has not been agreed upon yet."
Qurei, who heads the Fatah team in the talks with Hamas, said he did not expect a breakthrough before the end of this week.
"The most serious discussions will take place on Thursday and Friday," he said. "That's when we're expecting real progress and a major breakthrough that will alleviate the suffering of our people."
According to Qurei, the two sides have already reached an agreement on the establishment of a unity government and were now trying to work out the details of the government's political platform.
The head of the Hamas delegation, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, described the results of the talks as "positive," pointing out that the two parties are planning to continue the discussions until they reach a final agreement.
Mustafa Barghouti, an independent legislator who played an instrumental role in bringing about the rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah, headed to Damascus Monday for talks with Khaled Mashaal. Barghouti said he was planning to discuss with Mashaal the latest developments surrounding the establishment of a unity government.
Shbair, 60, was born in Khan Yunis and is well-respected in Gaza, but his views on Israel are largely unknown. His wife is deputy to the women's affairs minister in the current Hamas-led government.
Shbair holds a doctorate in microbiology from West Virginia University. He served as president of the Islamic University in Gaza for 15 years before retiring last year.
In the high-profile position, Shbair maintained good relations with Hamas, which has strong ties to the university.
Many senior Hamas officials worked or taught at the university, including Haniyeh, who served as Shbair's chief of staff.
But Shbair also enjoys a good relationship with Fatah. When Yasser Arafat was still alive, Shbair was a frequent visitor. He also speaks often Abbas.
If chosen as the head of a new government, Shbair's views on Israel would be closely watched. He has never voiced his positions on Israel in public, but he is described by colleagues as pragmatic. Shbair would lead a government of experts - acceptable to the major political parties but independent of them - that Abbas hopes will satisfy the international demands for moderation.
The so-called technocrat government would focus on internal Palestinian affairs, while allowing Abbas to pursue peace talks with Israel.
A devout Muslim with a reputation for modesty, Shbair has turned down past offers to serve as a cabinet minister, and as university president, rejected offers of security guards and chauffeurs.
On Monday, as Palestinian leaders were discussing his candidacy, he was seen driving his small car in Gaza City.
AP contributed to this report.
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