Hamas said it planned to present its cabinet to the Palestinian parliament for approval on Monday. However, it first needs approval from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who will meet Hamas leaders over the weekend.

Abbas is expected to ask Hamas to rework its government programme, an official close to Abbas said on condition of anonymity, because he is not authorised to reveal the content of the negotiations. The official also said Abbas would tell Hamas its hardline platform was too vague and thus unacceptable.

Economic sanctions

Hamas's victory has placed Abbas in the difficult situation of having to deal with a cabinet controlled by a rival party while facing crippling economic sanctions.

Mahmoud Abbas can veto the
makeup of the Hamas government

The main sticking point in Palestinian coalition talks has been Hamas's refusal to recognize a 1988 unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence that included a recognition of Israel.

Hamas also refused to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the umbrella group for all Palestinian factions and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is not a member of the PLO, which considers itself the sole representative of the Palestinian people, and smaller parties fear Hamas might try to dissolve the PLO.

Hamas has refused to moderate its views after winning the 25 January parliamentary elections, despite US and European threats to cut off aid to the Palestinian government unless Hamas recognises Israel, renounces violence and accepts existing peace deals.

No common ground

Hamas politician Mushir al-Masri said Thursday marked the final round of negotiations. He did not say outright that the talks had failed. However, the small Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which had been considered a likely coalition partner, said it did not find common ground with Hamas. Abbas' Fatah has said it would not join a Hamas government.

Al-Masri said that if Hamas did not find coalition partners, it would present a Cabinet of independents, technocrats and Hamas politicians.

Hamas has said it would reserve the top posts of foreign minister, interior minister and finance minister for itself.

Abbas has the right to veto the composition of a Hamas government, or ask that some ministers be replaced, but since the Hamas-dominated parliament needs to approve the Cabinet, Abbas cannot impose a government of his choosing, either.