- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

JERUSALEM — The formation of a new Palestinian government remains stalled while Hamas considers how to respond to a demand by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that it accept implicit recognition of Israel, according to Palestinian sources.

Mr. Abbas is reportedly prepared to order new elections if the incoming government has not agreed to abide by agreements negotiated under the defeated Fatah-led administration within “a few months.”

Two weeks have passed since Mr. Abbas handed Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh a letter of appointment as prime minister-designate charged with forming a government. Mr. Haniyeh said at the time that he hoped to complete the task within 14 days.

But with the new parliament scheduled to meet for the first time today, another Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, has said Hamas could take as much as three more weeks to form a Cabinet.

Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats in the January elections, handily beating Mr. Abbas’ Fatah movement, which won just 45. Even so, Mr. Abbas retains considerable powers as president.

In the letter to Mr. Haniyeh, Palestinian sources said, he conditioned the appointment on the new government’s accepting past Palestinian agreements that call for a Palestinian state to exist peacefully alongside Israel and a 2002 Arab League resolution calling for normalization of relations between the Arab world and Israel if it returns to the pre-1967 borders.

Israel Radio reported last week that if a Hamas-led government does not abide by such agreements, Mr. Abbas will seek to dissolve the parliament “within a few months” and call for new elections.

The radio’s Arab-affairs reporter cited a senior aide to Mr. Abbas as his source.

Fatah has also made acceptance of the Middle East peace process a condition for its participation in a Hamas-led government, a Palestinian newspaper reported yesterday.

The daily Al-Ayyam reported that Mr. Abbas laid out the condition at a meeting of senior Fatah officials on Saturday.

The Hamas leadership has been holding discussions on how to respond to the letter of appointment and how to walk the fine line between the necessity of dealing with its large Jewish neighbor on a day-to-day basis while refusing to recognize its legitimacy.

Hamas speaks only of offering Israel a long-term truce before resuming its efforts to bring down the Jewish state.

The Palestinian constitution allows five weeks for the formation of a government, after which the president can turn to another party. However, Hamas says the countdown begins only after Mr. Haniyeh accepts the appointment, which he has not yet done.

With the formation of a new government still pending, the parliament is not expected to vote on any substantive issues during its initial meetings this week.

The Ramallah-based legislative council’s secretary, Mahmud al-Ramahi, told Agence France-Presse that debates were planned on how the 13 members now in Israeli jails would vote, on salaries for the deputies and on reforms to the expanded chamber, which previously had 88 members.

Mr. Abbas also said last week that he intended to transfer broad security powers to a Hamas-led government instead of retaining direct control of most the security agencies, as had been reported previously.

“We’ll grant Hamas authority over the Palestinians’ national security because we need to have one body controlling the situation. I don’t intend to deprive Hamas of what I demanded in the past from Yasser Arafat,” he said.

Mr. Abbas served for a time as prime minister when the now-deceased Mr. Arafat was Palestinian Authority president.

However, an aide to Mr. Abbas noted that the Palestinian constitution defines the president as “supreme commander of the armed forces.” While Hamas would supervise the various security arms, Mr. Abbas would continue to hold ultimate power, the aide said.

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