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      Fatah-Hamas Unity Off – For Now

      Talks between rivals Fatah and Hamas break down for now, possibly over the identity of the Prime Minister in the PA interim government.
      By Elad Benari
      First Publish: 6/20/2011, 2:46 AM / Last Update: 6/20/2011, 3:14 AM

      Talks between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Fatah movement, and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal regarding forming a new PA cabinet have been postponed, a Fatah official said Sunday.

      AFP reported that Abbas and Mashaal had been scheduled to meet in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss the make-up of an interim government.

      The forming of a new government is one of the clauses in the unity pact recently signed by Hamas and Fatah. However, the talks have reportedly stalled on the issue of the identity of the Prime Minister who will head the transitional government.

      Abbas has been championing for his current Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, to continue in the role in the interim government as well. Hamas, however, has rejected Fayyad, saying his views are too “moderate.”

      Fatah representative Azzam Al-Ahmad made no allusion to these difficulties on Sunday, telling AFP that the delay was simply intended to eventually move the talks forward.

      “The meeting has been postponed until a new date is set in the coming days in order to assure the best atmosphere for the successful implementation of the reconciliation agreement,” Al-Ahmad told AFP.

      Al-Ahmad later spoke with the PA-based Ma’an news agency, saying that the delay also hoped to “create a better atmosphere for the agreement to go forward.” He noted that the delay would be for “several days.”

      Al-Ahmad added that during the interim period, “many contacts [would be] carried out," including a trip by Abbas to Turkey. He said Abbas would visit Turkey on Wednesday, but did not provide additional details on the trip.

      Meanwhile, Hamas' Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, played down suggestions that a stalemate had led to the postponement in talks.

      In a statement, Haniyeh said, “There is a possibility that the meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and Mr Khaled Mashaal, head of the political office of Hamas, will be delayed.”

      Haniyeh added the news had come from Mashaal in a phone call and said that “technical issues” had led to the postponement.

       “This is a sign of the seriousness of the discussions on the make-up of the government and who will head it,” said Haniyeh.

      The news of the delay in the talks comes despite recent reports that Abbas himself would hold the post of Prime Minister in the PA transitional government.

      The report said that Fayyad and Haniyeh would be Abbas’ deputies, with Fayyad also assuming the role of Minister of Finance.

      PA officials previously announced the transitional government would be made up entirely of independent figures.

      Israeli analysts have been highly skeptical of a Fatah-Hamas unity government’s long term viability, saying the divisions between the rival factions may prove too stark to overcome.

      Israel denounced the unity agreement, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying the agreement was “a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism.”

      Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz later announced that due to the Fatah-Hamas unity, the Israeli government would freeze the routine transfer of taxes and fees collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, until the PA proves the money would not go to Hamas and to terrorism.

      Steinitz later reversed the decision, saying the PA had clarified the money would not go towards funding terror acts.