Hamas presented a proposed government Sunday, giving itself key ministries after failing to persuade more moderate parties to join in a coalition that could have softened its hard-line image and prevented likely economic sanctions.
Incoming Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh presented Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with a 24-member Cabinet made up of Hamas activists and professionals, including one woman and one Christian. Fellow Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar would be the new foreign minister.
Earlier Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators reached a tentative agreement on opening at least one crossing into Gaza to get aid into the Palestinian area. The agreement was reached at a meeting called by the United States to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Hamas swept to victory in January 25 parliamentary elections, but despite nearly two months of negotiations, it was unable to persuade any other faction to join. Hamas was not prepared to compromise on its basic principles — the right to violent resistance against Israel and refusal to accept the Jewish state.
Aid could be cut off
Failure to bring moderate forces into its government is likely to strengthen Western resolve to cut off desperately needed aid. The United States and European Union have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians if Hamas does not renounce violence, recognize Israel and promise to honor existing peace agreements.
Last week a World Bank report warned of economic disaster in Gaza if aid is cut off. Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings.
Abbas said he would submit the list to the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee and then to the parliament if it approves. PLO approval is expected to take several days.
Haniyeh said he was optimistic his Cabinet would win approval. “I can say that the indications are positive toward constitutional stability on the Palestinian platform,” he said.
The Cabinet list also includes Gaza Hamas leader Said Siam as interior minister, in charge of some of the security forces. Ten of the ministers would be from Gaza and 14 from the West Bank.
Abbas, who favors negotiating a final peace settlement with Israel, has urged Hamas to moderate its violent ideology but likely will approve the Cabinet, his aides said.
Abbas was elected separately last year to a four-year term and wields considerable authority. He cannot impose his own Cabinet lineup on Hamas, however, because it controls an absolute majority in the legislature.
Compromise on food imports
With Palestinians facing severe shortages of bread, milk and other foods in Gaza, U.S. officials called an emergency meeting Sunday at the home of U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones and brokered a compromise with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in a two-month-old border standoff.
Afterward, Jones told reporters, “We have agreed that the crossing from Kerem Shalom will open tomorrow for imports of food and other essential humanitarian products from Egypt,” and details would be worked out Monday.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who took part in the Sunday meeting, said he hoped both Kerem Shalom and Karni would reopen Monday.
“I hope they will succeed in allowing goods to come into Gaza as of tomorrow to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza,” he told The Associated Press. He said Egyptian trucks were already lining up across from Kerem Shalom.
Israeli negotiator Amos Gilad said the Palestinians had to arrest militants before Karni could open. The vital cargo crossing between Israel and Gaza has been closed for most of the past two months, shutting off almost all exports and imports for the poverty-stricken seaside territory.
Palestinians charge Israel is punishing them for Hamas’ election victory, but Israel insists it is keeping the crossing shut because of warnings of terror attacks.
Under an agreement brokered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in November, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to boost cargo traffic through the crossing. The accord was meant to give momentum to peace efforts and economic recovery programs after Israel’s summer pullout from Gaza.
The Karni deal was never implemented, and Israel has closed the crossing for long periods, citing security concerns.