The Islamic militant group Hamas on Wednesday said it will put together the next Palestinian government by early March, timing that could help Israeli hawks win back lost support as they head into parliamentary elections.
Hamas officials said the group would stack top government positions with its own people, threatening to trigger an Israeli boycott of the Palestinian Authority. In a preliminary move, Hamas nominated three members for senior legislative posts, including the powerful position of parliament speaker.
Hamas, which calls for the elimination of Israel, trounced Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party in legislative elections last month. With a solid majority of seats in the incoming parliament, Hamas is poised to form a new Cabinet in the coming weeks, severely impeding Abbas' ability to pursue peace talks with Israel. The new Hamas-led parliament is to hold its first session Saturday.
Israeli leaders have taken a tough stance toward Hamas, ruling out any talks with the group until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and accepts existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the front-runner in the election, said this week that "all contacts" with the Palestinians will be reviewed once Hamas takes office. He also has threatened to cut off monthly transfers of about $50 million (Ђ42 million) in tax money to the cash-starved Palestinian government.
Top Israeli officials, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, held the first of a series of meetings to discuss future policy for dealing with Hamas. Wednesday night's talks touched on tax transfers and other financial issues, officials said. Further talks are scheduled in the coming days, they said.
An Israeli newspaper quoted Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, as saying Israel wouldn't deal with the Palestinians at all if Hamas taps its own people to serve as prime minister and parliament speaker.
Mofaz told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper that if the two posts are filled by Hamas people, "we will not hold any talks with them."
Hamas' unexpected rise to power, and its continuing refusal to renounce violence has shaken up the campaign for March 28 Israeli elections, reports AP.
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