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Palestinians Deadlock on Forming Unity Government

All Things Considered: October 10, 2006

Palestinians Deadlock on Forming Unity Government

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In the Mideast, the latest talks between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas on forming a unity government appear to have failed. Creation of a new government was seen as the way out of the economic sanctions imposed by Israel and the West.

As NPRís Eric Westervelt reports, advisors to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas say that he is now weighing his options against a backdrop of the worst Palestinian factional violence in years.

ERIC WESTERVELT: The foreign minister of Qatar made a last ditch attempt to get Fatah and Hamas back to the bargaining table and out of a crisis that has led to deteriorating economic and security conditions throughout the Palestinians territories.

But any deal would have meant painful ideological compromises by Hamas, including on the core issue of recognizing Israelís right to exist. Aides to Fatahís leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, say Qatarís diplomatic efforts have failed. Now aides say Abbas, also known as Abu Masan, is studying other options despite the specter of more inter-Palestinian violence.

Mr. NEBUL AMER(ph) (Senior Abbas Advisor): Iím sure that we will face problems. Itís not easy to take any option, but you must take decisions. You cannot wait forever. You cannot go (unintelligible) forever.

WESTERVELT: Nebul Amer, a senior Abbas advisor, says one option now under serious consideration is a referendum on the presidentís political platform, which among other things calls for a negotiated two state solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict, which Hamas thus far rejects.

Israel and the West cut off the cash flow to the Palestinian government after Hamas, listed as a terrorist group, won Januaryís elections. Amer says with unpaid salaries and a weeks long general strike by workers, Hamas has very limited time left to make concessions and face the fact that running a government is far different from leading a resistance movement.

Mr. AMER: The first time, in Palestinian, there is no salaries. There is a long strike. So I think under this crisis, they must think another way. They used to think as an ideological party. They looked to the Koran, they looked to the history, but now thereís something on the ground. They have to find solutions.

WESTERVELT: But so far, it appears that Hamas leaders, but in the Palestinian territories and abroad, will not compromise on what the group calls its core values, including a defiant rejection of Israelís right to exist. A Hamas spokesman in Gaza today said he thought there was still a chance for dialogue on a unity government.

But several senior Fatah officials say Abbas has run out of patience and will now be forced to take his political platform to the people sometime this fall. A yes vote on the non-binding referendum, aides say, would then give Abbas the legitimacy and political cover to call for early elections or replace leaders of the current Hamas-led ministries with a so-called emergency government dominated by Abbas supporters.

Mr. KAIS ABULELLAH(ph) (Gaza lawmaker): An emergency government is not an option. Emergency government is a call for civil war without any decisive solution of the struggle weíre seeing.

WESTERVELT: Lawmaker Kais Abulellah is an influential, if unofficial, advisor to President Abbas. Abulellah thinks the most realistic way out of the crisis is for Abbas to create a temporary government of non-ideological technocrats. They would run ministries for one year. This provisional government would have to be approved by the Palestinian Parliament, which is still dominated by Hamas despite Israelís arrest this summer of 34 Hamas lawmakers.

That legislative approval would, in theory, lessen the potential for more factional violence. Abulellah insists this plan would help secure the lifting of sanctions and give factions breathing room to work toward a real unity government.

Mr. ABULELLAH: Transitional governments made up of independent personalities agreed upon by the different factions in order to deal with the internal economic and security (unintelligible). It will not solve everything, but it will cool down the daily irritation, which makes the fighting concurrent.

WESTERVELT: This transitional government, one Abba advisor said ominously, is the only plan that has a chance to head off more inter-Palestinian violence.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Ramallah.

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