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Hamas Resignation Paves Way for Palestinian Unity Government

15 February 2007

The Palestinian prime minister resigned late Thursday, paving the way for a Palestinian unity government. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, the move comes just days before a summit meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh submitted his resignation during a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Gaza Strip.

The procedural move means that Haniyeh will lead a caretaker government until a new cabinet is formed leading to a unity government. Fatah, led by Mr. Abbas and Mr. Haniyeh's Hamas faction, agreed to a power-sharing agreement last week in Saudi Arabia in a bid to end factional fighting and revive international donor assistance, which has been suspended because of the Hamas refusal to recognize Israel.

Speaking to journalists, Mr. Abbas said a new government would be formed within weeks.

The Palestinian president called on the new government to respect international agreements, a reference to peace agreements signed between the Fatah-led PLO and Israel.

For his part, Ismail Haniyeh says he will work to achieve a national unity government.

Mr. Haniyeh said he is dissolving his government, which came to power last year, and any new government will follow the terms of the Mecca power-sharing agreement.

Thursday's development defuses growing tensions between the two groups since last week's agreement over the composition of a new government.

Ali Jarbawi, who teaches political science at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, says, however, there are still tensions between Fatah and Hamas.

"We have to be cautious until we see how the internal mechanisms of this government are going to work," he said. "Hopefully, this agreement will stick. If not, we might have problems, but not now - probably in a few months."

Still unclear is what the new Palestinian government's relationship with Israel will be. The power-sharing deal pledges a new government to recognize past peace agreements between Israel and the Fatah-led PLO, but it does not call for renouncing violence, or recognizing Israel, measures demanded by Israel and the Middle East Peace Quartet, which is made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

President Abbas is scheduled to hold talks early next week with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He is expected to brief the two on what the new government's policies will be.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with the Israelis, says Mr. Abbas hopes the momentum of the power-sharing agreement will help revive the Arab-Israeli dialogue.

"We can hope, and we can say many things, but I hope we focus on an agenda for this meeting - identifying where do we want to go from here, and how to get there," he said. "I think that is the main essence of this meeting. It can be a crucial turning point, if we identify where do we want to go from here and how to get there."

Speaking Thursday in Turkey, where he was on an official state visit, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel expects any new Palestinian government to meet all three requirements of the Quartet for normal relations and a resumption of economic assistance. Those are, recognition of Israel, a renunciation of violence and respect for past peace agreements.

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