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US-Educated Academic is Leading Palestinian PM Candidate


Palestinian negotiators say they have largely reached agreement on a new prime minister and that a deal on a unity government is all but complete. Negotiations are proceeding as Israel's prime minister is visiting Washington where he meets with U.S. officials to discuss reviving negotiations with the Palestinians.

Negotiators for the Fatah and Hamas factions are holding talks in Gaza City on allocating seats in a new Palestinian cabinet.

News reports say they are in agreement on nominating Mohammed Shabir, the former head of the Islamic University in Gaza as prime minister. Shabir, who is not a member of Hamas, will replace Ismail Haniyeh, a leading Hamas militant, who says he will step down if it means lifting the international boycott of the Palestinian Authority because of the Hamas refusal to recognize Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is visiting Washington for talks with President Bush and other senior officials. Just before he left Jerusalem, Mr. Olmert said he wanted to sit down and talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian Policy Institute Chairman Mahdi Abdel Hadi says unless and until Israel can offer President Abbas some tangible benefits to holding talks, the Palestinian leader is unlikely to agree to meet with Mr. Olmert.

"He has depending on the Israelis to deliver the goods, ie; release some prisoners, lift the siege, flexibility of goods and movement of people - to give him some sort of recognition as a partner and as a leader of the people who can deliver," he said. "Unfortunately the Israelis are closing all doors and windows and going through the usual conditions of dealing with Mahmoud Abbas."

Meeting Sunday in Cairo, Arab League foreign ministers called for a new Middle East Peace Conference to be convened based on the principle of land for peace.

A spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry says an international conference would be welcome, but only if it occurred as part of the Roadmap peace plan, which calls for Israel to halt settlement activity in the West Bank, and the Palestinians to disarm militant groups.