GAZA, (Reuters) – Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas appealed to faction leaders on Friday to finish choosing ministers for a unity government, warning further delay could embolden opponents of the deal.
Haniyeh had asked President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and other groups to submit their choices by Friday, ahead of a planned meeting with Abbas in the Gaza Strip. But Fatah and Hamas officials said they needed more time for deliberations. The final make-up of the new government may not be settled for another week, a Hamas official said.
Speaking at a Gaza City mosque before Friday prayers, Haniyeh said his goal was to form the unity government quickly to “block the way for parties that want to force us to retreat and put pressure on the people, the president and the government.”
Hamas and Fatah officials offered no immediate explanation for the delay and it was unclear how long it would last. Both sides promised to accelerate formation of a unity government but offered no details.
“We have ended the consultations with the factions, the parliament blocs and Palestinian figures, and we had asked the factions and parliament blocs to provide the names of their candidates within a few days,” Haniyeh said.
Haniyeh aide Ghazi Hamad said he expected Abbas and Haniyeh to meet in Gaza on Sunday, rather than on Saturday as previously planned, but it was unclear if outstanding issues would be settled by then.
Hamas and Fatah signed a power-sharing deal last month in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that stemmed factional fighting but stopped short of explicitly meeting the three demands of the Quartet of Middle East mediators.
The agreement contains a vague promise to “respect” previous Israeli-Palestinian pacts. But it does not commit the incoming government to abide by those pacts, nor to recognise Israel and renounce violence as demanded by the Quartet.
Haniyeh said many European countries were supportive of the unity deal and lashed out at the United States and Israel for objecting to the pact.
“There is a progressive European position (towards dealing with the Palestinian unity government). I hope that the U.S. administration will reconsider its policies because there is a Palestinian consensus and will and therefore the international community must respect it,” Haniyeh told reporters as he entered another round of negotiations on Friday evening.
Hamas and Fatah have yet to publicly unveil their cabinet choices, though both agreed the incoming finance minister would be Salam Fayyad, a U.S.-educated economist with close ties to the Bush government.
The factions have yet to agree on who would serve as interior minister, a critical post with oversight over several large Palestinian security services.
Likewise, Fatah has yet to say who will serve as deputy prime minister under Haniyeh.
A Hamas source said the group’s list of candidates was almost ready but that Hamas would await decisions by the other factions. A Fatah spokesman said final consultations on his faction’s list would be concluded when Abbas arrives in Gaza.