Mohammed Daraghmeh
Associated Press
May 11, 2011 - 12:00am

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, facing heavy international pressure, is leaning toward retaining his prime minister in an emerging Palestinian unity government, officials close to Abbas said Wednesday.

Abbas's secular Fatah movement signed a reconciliation deal with the rival Islamic Hamas government in the Gaza Strip last week that calls for a joint government to be formed ahead of elections next year. Israel refuses to deal with any government that includes Hamas, which it, the U.S. and European Union consider a terrorist group.

The Palestinian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity pending a formal decision, said Abbas wants to keep his politically independent prime minister, Salam Fayyad, in the job, but that the president hasn't made a final decision yet because of opposition within the ranks of both Fatah and Hamas.

Many inside Fatah believe Fayyad has stolen the spotlight from the president, while Hamas considers him to be a tool of the West.

But the officials said donor nations, who funnel hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the Palestinians, have made clear they want Fayyad, a U.S.-educated economist, to remain in the post.

They said Abbas considers Fayyad the best hope for a coalition government to win international recognition — and continue to receive the international aid.

Israel, the U.S. and the EU consider Hamas — an Iranian-backed group that has carried out suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis — a terrorist organization. Western countries have said the new government must renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. With Hamas unlikely to explicitly accept these conditions, the Palestinians hope to get around this by naming a government comprised solely of apolitical technocrats. Fayyad's appointment would be a big step in that direction.

Nabil Shaath, a Fatah central committee member, said, "Most of Fatah believes Salam Fayyad has done a great job and if he stays in office that will help in overcoming many difficulties." But he stressed no decisions have been made.

It also is unclear whether Hamas will accept Fayyad. The group has not taken a public position on the matter.

Fayyad, a former official at the International Monetary Fund, has good ties with the U.S. and Israel. He is credited with cracking down on public corruption, securing foreign aid and preparing the groundwork and infrastructure for a future Palestinian state.

While Israel has condemned the unity deal, European countries are taking a wait-and-see approach while the new government forms. Hamas has signaled some pragmatism in halting its attacks on Israel, but it is unlikely to fully accept the international demands.


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