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Abbas Appoints Crisis Cabinet
Abbas has indicated that he intends to call new elections, although he has not suggested a date for a national vote his party is not certain to win. Palestinian officials said Sunday that the law requires Abbas to seek parliamentary approval of the new cabinet within 30 days.
Gaza is now entirely in the hands of Hamas, which defeated Fatah in January 2006 parliamentary elections to take day-to-day control of the government.
The Palestinian Authority was established 13 years ago by the Oslo accords, and Abbas was elected its titular head in January 2005 after the death of Yasser Arafat. Western donors suspended aid to the government following the Hamas victory last year, making it impossible to pay civil service salaries in full.
"I think what we are seeing now is the gradual dissolution of the Palestinian Authority," said Mustafa Barghouti, an independent lawmaker who was information minister in the unity government. "The only way to avoid this is to hold new national elections."
Barghouti, who declined Abbas's invitation to join the emergency cabinet, said the body faces several immediate challenges.
"It cannot impose its authority in Gaza on the ground in any meaningful way, it has limited authority in the West Bank under Israeli occupation, and it soon will face legal questions" once its term expires in 30 days, Barghouti said. "Of course, the far larger problem is how do we emerge from this standoff?"
Abbas's decree Sunday outlawed Hamas's armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, and its roughly 5,000-member paramilitary unit in Gaza called the Executive Force, both of which he has called on previously to join the official government security services.
A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zouhri, said Abbas "unfortunately is involved in the American-Israeli conspiracy, along with some Arab parties, to bring down the Hamas movement." The Bush administration has begun sending $40 million to train and provide nonlethal military equipment to Abbas's forces.
"Hamas as a movement has ties and roots to the hearts of the Palestinians, and the resistance will continue and cannot be stopped," Abu Zouhri said.
International donors who cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas's electoral victory have endorsed Abbas's decision to dissolve the power-sharing government, brokered this year by the Saudi royal family.
Olmert has also signaled a willingness to release to Abbas some of the roughly $700 million in Palestinian tax revenue frozen by Israel, but he indicated Sunday that he would wait until it became clear how the Palestinian Authority would function.
Already, though, Israel and foreign countries are establishing distinct policies toward Gaza and the West Bank, and there are signs their approaches may differ.