Atul Aneja

President Abbas to invite Islamist group to form government

DUBAI: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has declared that he would ask the Islamist group Hamas that has swept the Palestinian parliamentary elections to form government.

"We are carrying on contacts with all factions, and of course we will ask the party that won the majority to form the government."

Earlier, senior leader Saeb Erekat of the Fatah party, which secured only 43 seats in the 132-member Parliament, had said his group would sit in Opposition.

Despite the advocacy by some Hamas leaders in the Palestinian territories that the government should be formed in "partnership" with Fatah, leader of the group in exile Khaled Meshaal appeared lukewarm to the proposal. In an interview with an Italian daily La Repubblica, Mr. Meshaal said the talk for a coalition with Fatah was "premature."

No disarming

The Damascus based Mr. Meshaal, who had been appointed leader of Hamas after the assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantisi by Israel in 2004, also declared that his group had not issued a call for the destruction of Israel.

"The [Hamas] statute does not in fact call for the destruction of Israel. In Arabic, it says: 'End the Israeli occupation of Palestine'. We don't want to eliminate them, only to obtain our rights. For that reason, the paragraph remains."

Mr. Meshaal made two more points. First he declared that the Hamas would not disarm as had been demanded by the U.S., European Union (E.U.), and the U.N. after the group won Wednesday's elections. He emphasised that the Hamas would "certainly not" lay down its arms as long as much of its territory was occupied. "Only force has produced results," he said, alluding to the recent Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. A statement by the quartet group comprising the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the U.N. had urged Hamas to give up violence and accept Israel's right to exist.

Roadmap rejected

Second, the Hamas leader categorically rejected as one-sided and "unacceptable" the "road map" anchoring a two-state solution to end the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel. While Fatah and Hamas leaders deliberated on their plans, their activists clashed near the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza strip.

The Hamas' impressive performance has evoked strong reaction in the region. Iran congratulated Hamas and lauded the Palestinian people for choosing "to continue the struggle and resistance against occupation."

But, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said Hamas must accept the Beirut initiative that had called for a Arab recognition of Israel.

World Bank special envoy James Wolfensohn said Hamas' victory could mean a termination of aid, due to the "lack of certainty and hope."