Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas indicated on Thursday he might dismiss the Hamas-led Cabinet as a step toward relief from crippling Western aid sanctions as the EU contributed some money for government salaries.
Addressing diplomats in the West Bank city of Ramallah at a feast marking the end of the daylong Ramadan fast, Abbas said: "We are going to make the decisions about forming a Cabinet that abides by Palestinian and Arab and international legality to lift the siege from our people and mitigate its suffering."
It was Abbas' clearest indication that he might dismiss the current Cabinet. Abbas has been promoting the idea of a Cabinet of technocrats instead. An aide said Abbas would not let the crisis continue indefinitely.
Abbas' Fatah party and the Islamic Hamas party have been in talks for weeks about forming a joint government, but the contacts have deadlocked over Hamas' refusal to accept international demands of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and endorsing past peace deals.
When Hamas took office in March, Israel, the US and the EU cut off hundreds of millions ofUS dollars in aid, listing Hamas as a terror group, bankrupting the Palestinian Authority and causing widespread hardship.
On Thursday, Abbas' office said it received 23 million euros from the EU to pay some government salaries. In a statement, the president's office said the money would be used to pay partial salaries to 62,000 of the 160,000 civilian government workers, but not to security personnel. The statement said additional funds would come from the EU by the end of the month to pay health workers.
The government is the largest employer in the Palestinian areas. Most workers have received little money since Hamas took office seven months ago.
While cutting off aid to the Hamas-led government, the EU has been channeling some funds through Abbas in an effort to alleviate some of the hardships and boost the standing of Abbas among his people.
As Palestinian president, Abbas has the authority to dismiss parliament and call new elections, but he has hesitated because polls show that Hamas would have a good chance of defeating Fatah again.
Meanwhile, Israeli settlers and government officials said on Thursday that unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank would get official government approval under a deal Israel's defense minister is working out in apparent violation of a US-backed peace plan.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz is negotiating with settler leaders on a deal to take down some of the outposts, move others and give authorization to the rest, according to Emily Amrussi, a spokeswoman for the settlers.
Israel said it would evacuate all outposts built after 2001 as part of the "road map" peace plan, but has removed only a few, which were later rebuilt.
Last year, police clashed with hundreds of settlers at one outpost, Amona, when the government ordered the demolition of nine permanent houses built there. The buildings were bulldozed, but dozens of settlers and police were injured. The government is determined to prevent violent clashes in future outpost removals.
A deal that leaves significant numbers of outposts in place could constitute a violation of Israel's commitments under the internationally-backed "road map" plan presented by US President George W. Bush in 2003.