Hamas Activists Doubt Gov't Can Work Without Fatah

The demeanor and voice of Ismail Haniyeh, the next Palestinian prime minister, emanated gravitas at yesterday's news conference.

Hamas activists pinched themselves with disbelief. "Had someone told me a year ago that we would be putting together a cabinet, I would have laughed and thought he'd gone mad," said a longtime activist.

But the excitement and statesmanship cannot hide the problems facing Hamas and the fact that the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority is no more than a "duty officer." Hamas activists predicted that Israel would not enable a Hamas government to function and that it would eventually fail.

Haniyeh said he respected the other factions' decision not to join his cabinet. But the veteran activist says Hamas really had hoped to set up a broad coalition, and most of all hoped that Fatah would be part of it.

If it were in the cabinet, Fatah would not act to weaken the government. There is no telling how Fatah - or the dozens of rival groups within the movement, mourning their loss of power - would act outside the government.

Hamas knows that the first thing it is expected to do as a government is to ensure the people's internal security. This will be much more difficult without Fatah as a coalition partner.

Haniyeh declared the Palestinian nation would not go hungry, despite the Israeli economic siege on Gaza, which is causing a dearth of milk, flour and sugar. Leaders of Arab and Muslim states including Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states and Iran all have promised to support the Hamas government financially, he said.

The Israeli attack on Jericho prison and the arrest of Ahmed Saadat and his colleagues have strengthened Hamas' position that they cannot rely on signed agreements and promises from Western states, and that they should turn to Arab and Muslim states.

The choice of hardliner Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar as foreign minister designate, rather than Dr. Ziyad Abu Amar, an independent supported by Hamas with Western connections, is also an indication of this policy.

The activist believes that severing the Gaza Strip from the West Bank is an even bigger problem. Hamas has not devoted sufficient thought to the last decade's geo-political changes in the territories occupied in 1967; it was busy fighting for the greater Palestine.

It is assumed that Israel will not enable all Hamas ministers to meet in one place - either Gaza or Ramallah - thus obstructing the cabinet's functioning. Video-conference cabinet meetings will prevent non-public debates, whose content would not immediately reach the Israeli secret services.

Even if the two parts of the government find ways to communicate, what would happen if Israel cuts Gaza off completely from the West Bank? Gaza would be pushed into Egypt's arms, and the project to establish a state would fail.

Unlike Fatah, Hamas - which regarded forming the PA under the Oslo Accords as a mistake to begin with - will not hesitate to dismantle the PA and return to the state of a nation under occupation.