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Palestinian Government Approved by Parliament

The 24-minister Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) cabinet was approved

Palestinian Government Approved by Parliament

The 24-minister Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) cabinet was approved by a large majority by the Legislative Council on Tuesday, the same day the Israeli general elections took place.

The approval, which was preceded by two days of often acrimonious discussion of the government program by lawmakers, especially the Fatah-dominated opposition, was largely a formality since Hamas, which won the 25-January legislative elections, controlled as many as 74 seats in the 132-seat parliament.

Seventy one lawmakers gave the government their confidence, including four independent deputies and two lawmakers representing the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Thirteen lawmakers , including nine affiliated with Hamas, detained in Israeli jails and detention camps, couldn't take part in the voting. Ten others were absent, probably because they couldn't make it to Ramallah due to Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints.

Thirty-six lawmakers voted against the government, with three abstentions.

All Fatah lawmakers voted against the government, citing its refusal to recognize agreements concluded between Israel and the PA leadership as well as the new government's reluctance to recognize the PLO as "the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people."

Hamas had defended its position in this regard, arguing that the PLO in its current shape was anachronistic and didn't truly represent all the Palestinian people. Hamas leaders, including Speaker of Parliament, Aziz Duweik, argued that the PLO would have to be restructured and reformed, noting that the vast bulk of the Palestine National Council (PNC) members were never elected but rather appointed by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Hamas's attitudes on this issue got some Fatah leaders, such as PA Secretary Tayeb Abdul Rahim, so exasperated that he warned that PA President Mahmoud Abbas would overthrow the government if the Hamas-led government continued to undermine the paramount interests of the Palestinian people."

Some other Fatah leaders, apparently seeking to put Hamas on the defensive, went as far as accusing the movement of "acquiescing to" plans by acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to annex large swaths of the West Bank and unilaterally impose "the borders" between Israel and whatever would remain un-annexed of occupied Palestinian territory.

Hamas scoffed at the charges, calling them "too brazen to be believed."

Non the less, the Fatah caucus chairman in the Legislative Council, Azzam al Ahmad, voiced the hope that the new government would be able to work in harmony with the Palestinian Authority leadership despite the differences.

"Hamas must understand that running a government is not the same as running an organization."

Al-Ahmad pointed out that while the government's program talked about peace, it didn't outline the mechanisms of achieving peace. "I hope they will rewrite the program in line with the requirements of our people."

The cabinet will be sworn-in before Abbas either Wednesday afternoon or Thursday, according to Nayef Rajoub, who has been appointed Minister of Wakf and Islamic Affairs.

Rajoub told PIC that the government would begin to function formally only after the swearing-in ceremony.

On Monday, the Prime Minister-designate Ismael Haniya declared that the his government was a government of peace, not a government of confrontation and provocation.

He described as "convulsive" statements by American officials following the Hamas electoral victory on 25 January, which he said were "unjustified and unnecessary."

"These decisions and statements hastily taken by the American administration are totally unjustified and don't serve the cause of peace and stability in this part of the world."

On Tuesday, Haniya criticized the United States for its cool response to Hamas's call for dialogue, accusing the US of taking a biased and hostile stand against the Palestinian people.

Speaking to reporters in Gaza, Haniya urged the Americans to "be more rational and less erratic and not to issue preconceived statements and judgments on a Palestinian government elected through ballot boxes."

It is uncertain how the PA, with its two centers of power, will deal with the new political realities in Israel, following Tuesday's elections.

The PA leadership cautiously welcomed the electoral victory of the Kadima party and the likelihood of forming a coalition with the Labor Party, saying the Palestinians were willing and ready to renew negotiations with Israel immediately.

"We're ready to go into direct and immediate negotiations to implement the roadmap if the Israeli government is ready," said Abbas's media advisor Nabil Abu Rudeina.

"We hope to an Israeli government ready to implement the roadmap."

Hamas, for its part, demanded that the next Israeli government move to end the occupation and recognize the right of the Palestinian people in establishing a viable and sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital.

In fact, most Palestinians, including Hamas, reacted to the outcome of the Israeli elections with a marked degree of ambivalence.

On the one hand, Palestinians were quite satisfied that the Likud and allied right-wing and messianic Jewish parties didn't win the election. Needless to say, most of the parties call for perpetuating and consolidating the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and even expelling non-Jews in order to allow for the creation of a pure ethno-religious Jewish state.

On the other hand, the Palestinians view with utmost gravity Olmert's plans of unilaterally determining Israel's "permanent borders," which they see as a mere euphemism for annexing large parts of the West Bank and truncating the would-be Palestinian state into hapless enclaves and townships cut off from each other by Israeli roadblocks, checkpoints, barbed wires, and concrete walls.

Indeed, this is the essence of Olmert's platform which is based on "separation and disengagement" from the Palestinians, unilaterally and single-mindedly if there is no Palestinian partner.

In other words, what Olmert seemed to say to the Palestinians is like this: "you will have to accept whatever we are willing to give you, and if you don't then we will impose upon you since you will treated as a non-partner by virtue of refusing to accept the fait accompli."

There is no doubt that both the Palestinian government and the PA leadership will have to carefully and intelligently study the outcome of the Israeli elections and whether the new political realities in Israel provided a true opportunity for peace.

It is also possible, if not likely, that Hamas will give the PA, though begrudgingly, a free rein to conduct negotiations with the new Israeli government.

One Hamas official intimated that "If Abbas could achieve results, we would welcomed that, if he couldn't, then he would have only himself to blame and we would tell the Palestinian people 'we told you so."

Source: The Palestinian Information Center

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