Abbas swears in Palestinian unity government

Comment: Off

FILE- In this March 18, 2007 file photo, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, left, speak as they head the first cabinet meeting of the new coalition government at Abbas’ office in Gaza City. A last-minute dispute has erupted between Hamas and Fatah over the makeup of the Palestinian unity government meant to end the factions’ seven-year political split. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, has announced plans to swear in a government of technocrats backed by both factions on Monday, June 2, 2014.(AP Photo, File)

FILE- In this March 18, 2007 file photo, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, left, speak as they head the first cabinet meeting of the new coalition government at Abbas’ office in Gaza City. A last-minute dispute has erupted between Hamas and Fatah over the makeup of the Palestinian unity government meant to end the factions’ seven-year political split. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, has announced plans to swear in a government of technocrats backed by both factions on Monday, June 2, 2014.(AP Photo, File)

Buy AP Photo Reprints

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a Palestinian unity government Monday, taking a major step toward ending a crippling split with his Hamas rivals, but also setting the stage for new friction with Israel and possibly with the West.

The brief ceremony at Abbas’ West Bank headquarters was preceded by last-minute haggling over the 17-member Cabinet of technocrats, highlighting the volatile nature of the new alliance between the long-time foes.

And while none of the Cabinet members are believed to be affiliated with Hamas, it remains unclear if the U.S. and Europe will accept the new government.

Still, Abbas was upbeat about prospects for ending the territorial and political rift that erupted when the Islamic militant Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from him in 2007, leaving him only with the autonomous areas of the West Bank. For seven years, the rivals ran separate governments in their respective territories.

“This black page in our history has been closed forever and will never come back,” he said before presiding over the Cabinet’s first meeting. Abbas hinted he would soon visit Gaza for the first time since 2007.

Ismail Haniyeh, the outgoing Hamas prime minister in Gaza, said that “we are starting new era, based on unity and partnership in decision-making and work.”

Despite the optimism, the new Cabinet faces many difficulties. Key disputes, including over how to meld rival security forces in the West Bank and Gaza, have not been resolved.

Abbas has no assurances that the U.S. and Europe will keep sending hundreds of millions of dollars a year in aid, money he needs to keep the new government afloat. The West considers Hamas a terrorist group, and the militants’ support for the government could set off concerns with international donors.

Meanwhile, the new government will be even more expensive to maintain because Abbas has to blend employees of two separate administrations. Hamas hired more than 40,000 people since 2007, in addition to 150,000 on Abbas’ payroll.

Israel has announced it would shun the new government because it is backed by Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks over the years and is considered a terror organization by Israel and the West.

Israel has announced punitive steps in response to the formation of a unity government, though it has not said in detail what it would do. Abbas warned Monday that he would respond to any Israeli measure, but did not elaborate.

The European Union and the U.S. have withheld judgment, but said they would only deal with a Palestinian government that recognizes Israel, renounces violence and adheres to agreements signed by its predecessors.

Abbas reiterated Monday that his new government would accept these conditions, which have repeatedly been rejected by Hamas in the past. Hamas considers itself as a resistance movement and wants to establish an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, including what is now Israel.

Abbas also told the new Cabinet that security coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces in the West Bank would continue, portraying it as a matter of Palestinian self-interest and addressing a key Israeli concern. Palestinian militants, including those from Hamas, have been the targets of such coordination, and Hamas has repeatedly demanded that Abbas stop it.

The formation of the unity government is the most significant step yet toward ending a political split that has weakened the Palestinian case for a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967.

Over the past seven years, repeated reconciliation attempts have failed, even though the split is unpopular among Palestinians. In recent months, both factions had greater incentives to repair ties.

Hamas is in the midst of a major financial crisis due to a border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, while Abbas is in need of a political accomplishment following the collapse of peace talks with Israel in late April.

Abbas is seen as having the upper hand in the unity negotiations, largely because Hamas has run out of options because of its financial crisis.

A last-minute dispute erupted Monday when Hamas demanded that Abbas reverse a decision to remove the position of minister of prisoner affairs. Hamas said Abbas backed down and restored the position.

However, Hamas made considerable concessions in agreeing to the overall Cabinet lineup. The 17 ministers, though nominally independents, are seen as either loyal to Abbas and his Fatah movement or to leftist PLO factions. None of the ministers is believed to have close ties to Hamas, observers say.

Rami Hamdallah, the current prime minister of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, will continue in his job. Hamdallah, 55, is largely seen as a figurehead, plucked from years in academia last year because of his loyalty to Abbas.

Four other senior ministers— economy, finance, interior and foreign affairs — also remain.

While seemingly losing influence in the Cabinet, Hamas

Comments

comments

About the Author