Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Haniyeh calls snap parliamentary vote on new Hamas cabinet

By Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspndent, and Agencies

Incoming Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Wednesday he was calling a special session of parliament for March 25 to vote on the new Hamas cabinet. The vote had been expected to take place after the March 28 election in Israel.

"Today we agreed with the president that on Saturday the Legislative Council will meet to discuss the government's program and to vote on it," said Mahmoud Zahar, slated to be foreign minister, after consultations with Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas.

The announcement came after the PLO's executive committee demanded that Hamas change its government guidelines to recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Hamas has refused to recognize the PLO, which it does not belong to, as the umbrella group for all Palestinian factions and the Palestinian Authority.

The decision Wednesday by the PLO executive committee was not expected to affect whether Abbas, who is also head of the PLO, would accept the Hamas government.

"We decided that we can't deal with the platform of this government or to accept it, because the platform neglects the main achievement of the Palestinian people, which is the PLO," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a PLO official.

Abed Rabbo said the PLO was also unhappy that the program did not address Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to unilaterally draw Israel's borders by 2010 if a peace deal cannot be reached.

"The Executive Committee does not accept a program that does not recognize the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, does not accept the [Palestinian] Declaration of Independence and does not clearly reject Israeli unilateral policies," said executive committee member Tayseer Khale.

Adnan Asfour, a senior Hamas official from Nablus, said the PLO decision was "unconstitutional" as under Palestinian Basic Law the newly formed government did not require the approval of the PLO.

"The new cabinet of Hamas will only get confidence from the Palestinian Legislative Council," he said.

Meshal: No end to armed resistance

Meanwhile, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said Wednesday that the organization would continue to fight Israel and told the United States that its Middle East policy would fuel terrorism.

"Israel cannot have stability with occupation. It has to choose. This is the message Israel should understand," he told Reuters in an interview in Abu Dhabi.

"Armed resistance is legitimate. All resistance options are open to the Palestinian people and Palestinian factions including Hamas," said Meshal, who is touring Arab and Muslim countries to solicit financial and political support.

He said that he informed Arab leaders that the government his group will head needs $1.75 billion per year to make ends meet and that he was confident that they would help.

Since its victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January, Hamas has been under pressure from the United States, the European Union and Israel to give up violence and recognize Israel or lose crucial financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.

"So long as there is an Israeli occupation in Palestine and so long as U.S. policy is biased, the so-called terrorism that the United States fears will escalate because the mistakes of U.S. foreign policy are pouring oil on fire," Meshal said.

He said his message to U.S. President George W. Bush was "that he should not worsen his mistakes."

Meshal said Middle East peace required Washington to adopt an "even-handed policy that maintains the same distance from all sides" involved in the conflict.

He said Hamas would reject international pressure to recognize Israel until Israel was compelled to change its position on Palestinian rights.

"It is illogical for the victim to be pressed to recognize its murderer and occupier," Meshal said.
"What is required is a fundamental change in the Israeli position."

Meshal said he had secured pledges for financial support during his tour and that Arab countries would agree to beef up allocations to Palestinians in a summit in Sudan next week.

"I believe that the Arab countries will agree in the Khartoum summit the level of [financial] aid they will offer the Palestinian people," he said.

"So far there has been good commitment that needs to be translated into figures... I am sure that Arab and Islamic support will cover a large part of the Palestinians' needs. No matter what Israel does and how much pressure the United States applies, I do not think Arabs and Muslims will cave."

Iran has said it will meet any gap in official funding for a new government once it is formed by Hamas in coming weeks.

But Meshal said the Palestinian people could face a "catastrophe" if fellow Arabs did not also chip in.

Israel has cut off monthly payments of tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

Meshal said Hamas would not be bowed by the pressure.

"We are not isolated. We are a movement that enjoys the confidence of its people and has the capability to meet all its obligations," he said. "We have succeeded in the past and we will succeed in the present and the future, God willing. Those who bet that we will lose are deluded."

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