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The Second Cabinet Haniyeh
Israeli Prime Minister Olmert invites Arab leaders to a regional peace conference

Added on April 6, 2007
According to Haaretz, at the joint press conference alongside Angela Merkel on April 1, 2007 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert knew that the international Quartet (UN, USA, EU and Russia) had wished to invite Olmert, Palestinian Authority Chairman Abbas and the Quartet of "moderate" Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to promote the peace process. The Arab leaders had already rejected the proposal and sent Olmert a counterproposal. The Arab League offered a summit including an Arab and an Israeli delegation. The Arab League would of course determine the composition of its delegation of "moderate" states. Akiva Eldar in Haaretz wrote that it is not up to Israel to define who is a moderate Arab. If the Arab League chose to appoint Syria's Bashar Assad to its team, Olmert could not refuse it. Eldar concluded that Olmert ignored the Arab proposal and, therefore, his offer was not honest, but just a way to make headlines.

Still, the U.S. State Department spokesman and Javier Solana, Europe's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union, embraced Olmert's reaction to the Arabe League's Riyadh offer by defining it as "a positive response that opens a path to resolution of the conflict." Saudi Arabia insists now that there will be no direct talks with Olmert unless Israel accepts the Arab peace initiative.

Nancy Pelosi's trip to Damascus was heavily criticized by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney who argued that "The president is the one who conducts foreign policy, not the speaker of the House." The Bush administration accuses Syria of sponsoring terrorism and tries to isolate Damascus from the international community. A Washington Post editorial on April 5, 2007 titled "Pratfall in Damascus: Nancy Pelosi's foolish shuttle diplomacy." Syria was getting mixed messages from the U.S. The editoral underlined that Assad "is a corrupt thug whose overriding priority at the moment is not peace with Israel but heading off U.N. charges that he orchestrated the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri." The editorial concluded that "Pelosi's attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it is foolish."


Added on April 5, 2007
According to The Jerusalem Post, Chancellor Merkel was not an efficient mediator. On the contrary, Palestinian Authority officials accused her of "offending the Palestinians' feelings" during her visit to Ramallah, where she met Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "She showed no understanding for the plight of our people. On the other hand, she appeared to be very biased toward Israel." According to the source of The Jerusalem Post, Merkel focused during her talks with Abbas on the need to release the kidnapped Israeli officer Gilad Schalit. Merkel met with the families of missing Israeli soldiers during her visit to Jerusalem. The source complained that during the joint press conference with Abbas, "she refused to even acknowledge the fact that we [the Palestinians] have more than 10,000 prisoners in Israel." The Palestinians were "hoping to show Merkel the wall that Israel built around Bethlehem, but she refused to go there." Still according to this source, "President Abbas was hoping to draw parallels between Israel's wall and the Berlin Wall. He wanted to remind Merkel of the days when she lived in East Berlin." Merkel also turned down the meeting with church leaders and representatives of Palestinian civil societies. The German Chancellor received an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University, while refusing to tour the Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem. The source complained that "Germany will not be able to play any role in the peace process because of the Chancellor's bias to Israel. Our people are obviously paying the price for the crimes that were perpetrated against the Jews during World War Two." A senior official in Abbas's office later downplayed the remarks, saying that they did not represent the official PA line.

The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that Chancellor Merkel mentioned "the window of opportunity" opening in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but afterwards stressing that the road to peace was still long. She did nothing to seize the opportunity herself when Israeli Prime Minister Olmert mentioned the possibility of an Arab-Israeli peace conference. 24 hours earlier, the Jordan King did also everything to create a pleasant atmosphere, but she was reluctant to play an active role.

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The Second Cabinet Haniyeh

Article added on April 1, 2007

Palestine's second Cabinet Haniyeh (Hanieh) was sworn in on March 17, 2007 in Gaza City. The list of 25 ministers was dominated by members of Hamas and Fatah. By this move, both parties hope ending the international boycott which strangles the Palestinian economy.

During
Angela Merkel's (article in German) visit to the Middle East, the German Chancellor urged the new Palestinian unity government on March 31, 2007  to embrace the principles of the Middle East Quartet. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that Hamas "will never recognize the right of Israel to exist on one inch of Palestinian land" and that Hamas "will not abandon the resistance to the Zionist occupation until the liberation of all Palestinian soil." This can hardly be called a breakthrough.

Ismail Haniyeh, the fifth Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, was born in a refugee camp in Gaza in 1963. The former Dean of the Islamic University in Gaza and former chief of the office of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, quickly rose to prominence because the Israeli Army killed many leading figures of the Islamic Resistance Movement. In the
January 2006 Palestinian elections, Hamas surprised both the world and Palestine with its victory, wining 76 of the 132 seats in the parliament.

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There was some hope that Hamas would seize the occasion and transform itself from a militant and terror organization into a reputable political party, offering long term benefits to its voters. So far, Hamas has frustrated the world with its intransigent position.

What has Hamas gained from it? Nothing. Hamas has accepted Fatah as well as independents and representatives of smaller parties as minority partners in the second cabinet Haniyeh in order to gain international recognition. Without a substantial change of attitude and clear words towards Israel and the international community, the isolation will not end. Hamas tries to erode the international boycott with salami
tactics, slice by slice. But it is not working.

The Arab summit in Riyadh saw the re-issuance of the 2002 Saudi initiative offering a normalizing of Arab-Israeli relations in exchange for the Israeli retreat to its 1967 borders and a just solution for the 1948 Palestinian refugees. At the same summit, Saudi King Abdullah VI condemned the American occupation of Iraq as "illegal". These harsh words by the Saudi King were necessary to be able to remind the Arab leaders and the Arab public without losing face that the Arab nations should ultimately recognize Israel's right to exist.


Could the deadlock be broken? Today, on April 1, 2007 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert invited Arab leaders including the Saudi King to a regional peace conference. Speaking in a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Olmert said: "I would even take advantage of this important opportunity to be with the EU president to invite all Arab heads of state, including the King of Saudi Arabia, to a meeting."


A
mediator other than the United States may have been needed to present the breakthrough. German Chancellor Angela Merkel with her down-to-earth approach may have helped the parties to become more flexible. She called on both the Israeli and the Palestinians to seize the window of opportunity offered to them. The Israeli Prime Minister seemed to answer the call by offering the possibility for an exchange of views about solving the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The European Union has decided to enlarge its contacts from Palestinian President Abbas to some non-Hamas members of the second Cabinet Haniyeh, including Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr and Finance Minister Salam Fayyad. Maybe Hamas is finally able to read the writing on the wall.

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The full cabinet list of the Second Cabinet Haniyeh
List of the 25 ministers sworn in on March 18, 2007

- Prime Minister: Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas, incumbent
- Deputy Prime Minister: Azzam al-Ahmed, Fatah, new
- Foreign Minister: Ziad Abu Amr, independent, new
- Finance Minister: Salam Fayyad, independent [Third Way Party], new
- Minister of Economy: Ziad Zaza (or Ziad al-Thatha), Hamas, veteran
- Interior Minister: Hani Kawasmeh, independent, new
- Justice Minister: Ali Sartawi, Hamas, new
-
Waqf and Religious Affairs Minister: Mohammed Tartouri, Hamas, new
- Information Minister: Mustafa Barghouti, independent [former communist], new
- Telecommunication and Technology Minister: Yousef al-Mansi, Hamas, new
- Planning Minister: Samir Abu Eisha, Hamas backed independent, veteran
- Local Governments Minister: Mohammed Barghouti, Hamas, veteran
- Youth and Sports Minister: Bassem Naim, Hamas, veteran
- Education Minister: Nasser al Shaer, Hamas-backed independent, veteran
- Agriculture Minister: Mohammed al-Agha, Hamas, veteran
- Minster for Women's Affairs: Amal Siyam, Hamas, new
- Tourism Minister: Khouloud Ihadeb Deibas, independent, new
- Health Minister: Radwan al-Akhras, Fatah, new
- Transportation Minister: Saadi al Krunz, Fatah, new
- Labor Minister: Mahmoud Aloul, Fatah, new
- Public Works Minister: Samih al-Abed, Fatah, new
- Minister of Prisoner Affairs: Tayseer Abu Sneineh, Fatah, new
- Culture Minister: Bassam Salhi, (Communist) People's Party, new
- Social Affairs: Saleh Zidan, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, new
- Minister without portfolio: Wasfi Kabaha, Hamas, veteran









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