Hamas to submit new draft gov’t plan

news2_14_3.jpgRAMALLAH — Hamas is set to submit a new draft government programme after talks with Palestinian factions proved inconclusive Monday. Hamas officials, however, vowed that coalition talks would be concluded by the end of the week.

On her way to the world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia, meanwhile, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US was looking into ways by which it could raise humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.

Her comments came as US officials elsewhere told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fateh faction that it too could find itself out in the political cold should it decide to join a Hamas-led government. Accusations, meanwhile, continue that Palestinian leaders have been warned off joining a new Palestinian government by officials from the US consulate in occupied East Jerusalem and threatened with sanctions.

Speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Aziz Dweik, yesterday said the US consulate had contacted one of the candidates to assume a ministerial portfolio in the new government and threatened him with sanctions, including denying him any entry visa to the US, should he accept to join.

Dweik refused to reveal the identity of the person, but, speaking in front of students at Nablus’ Al Najah University, said Hamas would remain defiant in the face of outside pressure.

“Hamas will not give up one inch of the soil of Jerusalem even if the US gives us all the money it has in its treasury… The world is exerting pressure on us to give up the rights of our Palestinian people and I tell you that we are patient and steadfast.”

The movement, however, will have to alter its first draft political programme for the new government after coalition talks with the various Palestinian factions remained inconclusive Monday.

“We will try to submit a new draft to the other factions this evening that is acceptable to all our brothers,” Hamas parliamentary spokesman Salah Al Bardawil told reporters after the talks broke up in Gaza City.

“We hope this new draft programme will allow everybody to join the government and still retain our basic Palestinian rights,” he added.

Jamil Majdalawi, legislator for the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), told the Associated Press differences remained on three main points and talks would continue today.

“There are still differences between the groups and Hamas on three main points,” he said, listing them as the PLO’s 1988 acceptance of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, prior accords with Israel and the Basic Law governing the Palestinian Authority.

“The Basic Law of the Palestinian Authority should be the main point of reference for the government and the policy of the government… The government programme should be committed to signed agreements [with Israel] even though we in the PFLP opposed some of them in the past,” he added.

Bardawil said Hamas was reluctant to sign up to the PLO’s 1988 independence declaration, which explicitly accepted a two-state solution, without any reciprocal move from Israel.

“If this document gives the occupation a formal status, we are not ready to sign up to it for free without receiving anything in exchange,” he said.

But he stressed that Hamas would try to accommodate the needs of the Palestinian leadership and the other factions.

“We will discuss a draft which respects the rights of the Palestinian people, puts no obstacles in the way of the requests of our brothers in Fateh and other factions, and does not put Abbas in difficulty,” the Hamas spokesman said.

Ismail Haniyeh, Palestinian prime minister-designate, said Hamas remained committed to a broad coalition. In comments to The Jordan Times Monday, Haniyeh said he believed this to be a matter of national interest.

“We have repeated time and again that we would prefer a national coalition government in which all the factions participate including the brothers in Fateh. Until now, Fateh has not given an official response; everything being said about its refusal to join the government is media speculation… I believe national interests also necessitate [Fateh’s] participation.”

But Fateh might also face US isolation should it decide to join a Hamas-led government. US diplomatic sources told Reuters that strict US restrictions on contacts and assistance to Hamas would apply to Fateh and other parties if they join the new Palestinian government.

Bush administration officials are barred from having direct contact with Hamas, and US law prohibits the United States from providing any support to the group, classified as a terrorist organisation by the US State Department.

“If Fateh joins as an organisation, it would fall into the same category,” a diplomatic source said. “Of course if Hamas and other government members accept the Quartet principles, that changes the situation.”

Elsewhere, Rice said Washington was looking into the possibility of raising humanitarian assistance to Palestinians without directly funding a Hamas-led PA.

Speaking on her way to Indonesia, Rice said she would ask Jakarta to help press the message that the Palestinians must remain committed to peace with Israel.

“We are looking at ways to even increase our humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people during this period of time,” Rice said, according to the AP, though she did not provide any details.

Direct US aid to the PA forms only a small part of the just over $1 billion budget foreign donors contributed last year at $70 million. Separately, the US spent $225 million for humanitarian projects through the US Agency for International Development and gave $88 million for refugee assistance.

Rice also said the US would go on promoting democracy in the Middle East, the wider Muslim world and elsewhere.

“Yes, there are going to be some outcomes that we don’t like, but to assume that you simply therefore keep pent-up people’s desire to have a say in their future just doesn’t work,” Rice said.

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