Israelis Unimpressed With Proposed New Palestinian PM

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - A new Palestinian government headed by a U.S.-educated professor will not likely bring about any change in the Palestinian Authority nor create the conditions necessary for negotiations with Israel, according to experts here.

P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction and the Hamas-led administration of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh have agreed to form a new unity government of "technocrats," reportedly under the leadership of a new prime minister, Mohammed Shbair.

The move is the latest P.A. bid to break a Western financial boycott, instituted because of Hamas' refusal to denounce terrorism and recognize Israel's right to exist.

The international community has also laid down as a prerequisite for financial assistance a Hamas agreement to abide by agreements previously signed between Israel and the P.A.

So far Hamas, which won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections last January, has refused to comply.

The Shbair move immediately ran into difficulties Tuesday, as Hamas said it would never recognize Israel. Israeli experts also rejected the proposed new prime minister, who formerly headed the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli counter-terrorism expert reserve Col. Jonathan Fighel said it was premature to judge the proposed new government, but at first glance it appeared there would be no "big change."

Shbair, 60, may not belong to Hamas, but he is closely associated with the terrorist group, said Fighel, a senior researcher at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism and a former Israeli military governor in several towns in the disputed territories.

Shbair may not have killed Jews, Fighel said, but he was nonetheless "recognized as a Hamas supporter."

The Islamic University was a stronghold of Hamas activity in Gaza. It was also one of the bases from which Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin launched his movement, Fighel noted. Israeli armed forces killed Yassin in 2004.

It may have had students and lecturers, he said, but it was anything but a university. Instead, it was a source of terrorism and incitement, and Shbair had allowed such activities to take place, Fighel charged.

He pointed out that Haniyeh, the current Hamas prime minister, was a lecturer and on the board of directors of the Islamic University.

Ehud Ya'ari, Arab Affairs specialist on Israel Television, voiced similar concerns. He described the proposed new Palestinian prime minister as "Hamas, wearing the makeup of Fatah."

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Tuesday that the proposed new unity government would not recognize Israel or accept a "two-state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Recognition of Israel is one of several key conditions laid down by the Quartet - the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia - before an international economic boycott against the P.A. will be lifted.

It is also a precondition set down by Israel for renewing formal negotiations with the Palestinians.

But Barhoum said Hamas' position remained unchanged. "We reject the two-state solution, which is the vision of U.S. President George Bush, because it represents a clear recognition of Israel," Reuters quoted him as saying.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said this week that he was ready to meet with Abbas, but Israeli officials have also stressed that there would be no negotiations with the P.A. until it meets the internationally defined benchmarks.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said the appointment of Shbair was not reason enough for Israel to negotiate with a new P.A. government.

In a radio interview he, too, noted that Shbair formerly headed the Islamic University in Gaza. Dichter said the institution had produced many terrorists and murderers.

The P.A. government needed to change its approach if it wanted Israel to see it as a peace partner, he said.

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