GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Senior Hamas leaders said Wednesday the Islamic militant group would appoint a Cabinet in early March, or several weeks before Israeli elections, a timetable likely to play into the hands of hawkish Israeli parties.
Top Israeli officials, meanwhile, have launched a three-day brainstorming session to finalize their policy on dealing with the Palestinians as the new Hamas era dawns.
An Israeli newspaper quoted Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz as saying Israel wouldn’t deal with the Palestinians at all if Hamas tapped its own people to serve as prime minister and parliament speaker.
In other news, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teen holding a toy gun. Palestinian security forces said Mujahed Al Simadi was shot in the chest after a group of youths threw stones at a house that the soldiers had taken over. The Israeli army, in a preliminary report on the killing, said soldiers opened fire on an armed man.
The Hamas-led Palestinian parliament is to convene on Saturday for the first time, but there had been indications that Hamas would wait until after Israel’s March 28 balloting to appoint a Cabinet.
But on Wednesday, Ismail Haniyeh, widely seen as Hamas’ top candidate for prime minister, said a Cabinet would be in place around early March.
“We will be ready in two weeks” from Saturday, Haniyeh told The Associated Press.
Hamas’ unexpected rise to power in Jan. 25 Palestinian elections, and its subsequent refusal to renounce its violent campaign against Israel, is expected to dominate Israel’s election.
Polls show Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party, headed by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert since Sharon’s Jan. 4 stroke, outstripping rivals on a platform of territorial concessions to the Palestinians. But as the voting nears, Hamas’ official rise to power could benefit parties such as former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, which takes a hard line against the Palestinians. Netanyahu himself has likened Hamas’ rise to Adolf Hitler’s.
Hamas leaders said Wednesday that the next Palestinian prime minister would come from the militant group. There had been some speculation that Hamas would appoint an independent figure or member of another party.
Incoming Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri said the new government would include one or two women. The Yediot Ahronot newspaper cited the Israeli defense minister, Mofaz, as saying that if the next Palestinian prime minister and parliament speaker were to come from Hamas, then Israel would cut off all ties to the Palestinian Authority.
The parliament speaker serves as Abbas’ deputy and is the Palestinian Authority’s No. 2 official. “If he is from Hamas, we will not hold any talks with them, and there will be no compromises,” Mofaz told the newspaper.
Aziz Duaik, an incoming Hamas legislator from the West Bank city of Hebron, said he expected that both the parliament speaker and the prime minister would be chosen from within Hamas.
He also said that once the new government was formed, Hamas would formulate its own peace plan, with a long-term truce with Israel as a centerpiece.
“I hope that after establishing the government … we will sit down and have our own peace initiative,” he said. “The truce will be at the top of this initiative.”
Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, has said before that it would consider a long-term cease-fire if Israel would reciprocate.
On Tuesday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told Mofaz during his visit to Cairo that Hamas would be willing to stop attacks and recognize previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israel, but wouldn’t recognize the Jewish state, a key Israeli and Western condition for dealing with the militant group.
Olmert, meanwhile, has said “all contacts” with the Palestinians would be reviewed once Hamas joined the government.
“We will not negotiate and we will not deal with a Palestinian Authority that will be dominated in whole or in part by a terrorist organization,” he told a meeting of U.S. Jewish leaders on Tuesday. “On the day that the chairman of the Palestinian Authority … will appoint a Cabinet from the Hamas to lead the Palestinian government, we will review all our contacts with the Palestinian Authority.”
Hamas’ election victory stunned Israel, and officials have been busy since cobbling together policy. The official stand, being drafted this week at the foreign ministry, defense ministry and Olmert’s office, is expected to include halting the flow of crucially needed money to the Palestinian Authority once its parliament is sworn in Saturday.
Two weeks ago, Olmert allowed the transfer of $54 million (¤45 million) in taxes and customs duties it collected from Palestinian merchants and laborers in January, but hinted that further payments would stop once Hamas takes power. The parliament that is to convene on Saturday in the West Bank town of Ramallah is no ordinary legislature. Fourteen of the incoming legislators are being held in Israeli prisons, down one with the release Wednesday of 65-year-old Ahmed Haj Ali, who was held without trial or charges for five months.