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Palestinian Gov...t Makes Progress In Talks, Selects Tentative Leaders

By Ian Fisher


Palestinian negotiators said Monday that they were penciling in the names to lead a new government. They met over the weekend and again on Monday in their effort to unite the divided factions and restart the badly needed flow of foreign aid.

Officials for both Hamas and Fatah say privately that there is general agreement on a replacement for Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas: Mohammad Shbair, 60, who was president of the Islamic University in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, for 12 years before his retirement last year.

The names, if tentative, appeared to be a sign of progress in talks to form a national unity government of professionals and technocrats. But leaders of Hamas, the militant group that would cede direct control of the government, and its rival Fatah, cautioned Monday that some of the toughest issues remain unresolved and that much work remained before a final deal. The talks have dragged on since the summer.

The aid was cut off after Hamas won legislative elections in January and took control of the government in March. Even if the Palestinians manage to form a new government, it is far from clear that they can make the concessions necessary for Israel, the United States and Europe to resume aid and other financing.

“We do not want to give the agenda to our people piece by piece,” Haniya, who has declared his intention to resign soon, told reporters in Gaza City on Monday. “We want to give them an entire program all at once.”

Haniya has said that he believes that it will be two or three weeks before a final deal is reached. But the names being put forward have leaked out, and in a possible sign of Palestinians’ desire to press their case with the outside world, all three candidates for top jobs have studied in the United States.

The planners of a unity government have said that it would be made up of people without direct ties to any faction.