The new Palestinian government seemed unlikely to reach any kind of agreement on the makeup of its new government after Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) traded barbs Wednesday night on whether the latter was entitled to reject the political program of Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyah.
"President [Mahmoud] Abbas will send the Hamas government a letter explaining his situation over its unacceptable platform. The Hamas government should review it and present a new platform taking into account the interests of the Palestinian people," Yayssir Khaled, a member of the PLO executive committee, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"The Hamas platform does not mention the PLO as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and president Abbas will ask it to change its program in keeping with PLO policy," added committee member Zakaria Al-Agha.
Outgoing Palestinian prime minister Ahmad Qurei, who also attended the meeting, likewise branded the Hamas platform "unacceptable" for not recognizing the supremacy of the PLO.
"We cannot have a government that does not recognize the PLO," he said.
Palestinian President Mahmmoud Abbas, who chaired the meeting, told reporters that he cannot give his stamp of approval to the Hamas list of ministers and program without consulting with other PLO members.
As chairman of the PLO and president of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas must approve the Hamas line-up before it can be submitted to MPs
The leader of Fatah’s bloc in parliament, Azzam Al-Ahmad, issued a stark warning of a future "crisis between the government and the Palestinian Authority presidency" unless Hamas change its program.
The PLO mandated the Palestinian Authority to assume its functions after agreeing the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords with Israel.
Hamas in contrast insists that legitimacy is derived from the ballot box and not from the PLO.
The PLO, led for decades by the late Yassir Arafat, groups nearly all factions and is meant to represent not only the 3.8 million Palestinians of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Occupied East Jerusalem but the 4.8 million-strong abroad.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zihri rejected the PLO’s decision, dismissing it as unconstitutional.
"This committee is not entitled to look into the matter," he told Al-Jazeera satellite channel.
"According to the Palestinian constitution, the Palestinian Legislative Assembly (lower house of parliament) is the only body entitled to decide on the government’s political program," he added.
Zehri said Hamas holds the PLO in due respect, but criticized it for failing to be representative of all Palestinian factions and powers.
"We do endorse the PLO as a reference body for all factions, but we beg to differ that it failed to bring under its umbrella major powers and factions, which made it highly unrepresentative."
Hamas never joined the PLO and has always held back from endorsing the supremacy of the organization.
In his first response to the PLO’s rejection, Haniyeh called on parliament to convene Saturday, March 25, for a vote of confidence on his line-up.
With Hamas enjoying a big parliamentary majority after its January 25 vote win, Abbas has little option but to ultimately give his seal of approval.
Hamas handed Abbas Sunday night, March 19, a cabinet that included its own leaders, independents and technocrats.
Haniyeh said the 24-member line-up included one woman and one Christian as well as two senior Hamas officials, Mahmud Al-Zahar and Sayed Siam for the foreign and interior portfolios respectively.
Hamas has sought a broad national unity government but after nearly four weeks of coalition talks since its January election victory, no other faction has agreed to join.
Abbas’s own Fatah faction had earlier also refused to join a Hamas-led government.
Western diplomatic sources said Monday, March 13, that the Bush administration warned Fatah and other parties of strict restrictions on contacts and assistance if they joined a Hamas-led government.