Palestine PM Disbands Cabinet, Erekat Resigns

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JERUSALEM, Israel - It has been a busy weekend for the Ramallah-based Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

On Saturday, Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority (PA), resigned. On Sunday, at the request of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad ordered cabinet members to tender their resignations, effective immediately.

Speculation has it that the decision - reportedly one that's been in the offing for some time - came in the wake of regional unrest and the overthrow of the governments in Tunisia and Egypt.

According to media reports, Fayyad will choose a new cabinet that will be tasked with building up Palestinian institutions.

Abbas appointed Fayyad prime minister in June 2007, following a military coup in the Gaza Strip, which left Hamas in control. Abbas dissolved the three-month-old unity coalition, formed an emergency government, and replaced Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh with Fayyad.

Abbas' tenure ended in January 2009, but neither he nor Fayyad stepped down. Since then, the PA has announced and then retracted plans to hold elections, with the latest announcement saying they would take place somewhere between July and September.

The rivalry between the two factions has gone on for years. Hamas accuses Fatah of pandering to Western interests, particularly the U.S., and working too closely with the Israelis. Hamas appears more devoted to imposing Islamic rule on the population, but many Fatah officials are also devoted Muslims.

On Saturday, senior Hamas official Aziz Dwiek told the Ma'an news agency that Fatah could move the reconciliation process forward by releasing "all of the political prisoners to ease tension in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria]."

Dwiek said the next step would be for Abbas and Fayyad to "go immediately to Gaza" where they could meet with their Hamas counterparts away from the "intervention of the U.S. and Israel."

"We must benefit from the experiences in Egypt" because the leaders who fell from power in Tunisia and Egypt were out of touch with the people, Dwiek said.

"Palestinians are facing what the Egyptians did, with a widening gap between a government and its people over 30 years," he said.

Hamas remains opposed to Fatah's plans to hold elections.

"The decision is unacceptable because Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and Fayyad lack the legitimacy and competency to hold or host such elections," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Agence France Presse.

"We do not recognize the elections and will not participate in them…because they consolidate division and will not be in the interests of the Palestinians," he said.

"The PLO in its present state does not represent the Palestinians," Barhoum said. "The organization with its weak structure is used to pass such policies and is hijacked and controlled by Fatah."

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