Monday, September 25, 2017

Abbas ends 7 year division, announces unity government


By Beth Staton - June 02, 2014
TAGS:
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Palestinian Authority] [Hamas] [Fatah] [Benjamin Netanyahu]

Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

After seven years of bitter division, President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a Palestinian Unity government today, in a ceremony that was understated – but not without last-minute drama. 

 
The 17-member cabinet, with Rami Hamdallah at its head, was successfully confirmed before a crowd of officials and media representatives just after lunchtime today. The ministers are primarily technocrats, unaffiliated with major political parties, and generally present  in order to manage the government until general elections in several months’ time. 
 
But a plan to dissolve the Ministry for Prisoners threatened to derail proceedings even in the hours leading up to the ceremony. In recent days Hamas has fiercely condemned Mahmoud Abbas’ plan to replace the Ministry with a PLO-controlled prisoners’ affairs office. It was not until the last minute that a senior Hamas official said the dispute had been resolved, and the cabinet was announced with a Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs notably absent from the list.
 
The approval of the unity government has defied the expectations of many Palestinians. When plans for reconciliation were announced, the reaction was cautious: in the past seven years of division between Fatah and Hamas, after all, talk of bridge-building has resulted in little of tangible worth. 
 
But today’s ceremony shows the plan agreed in April – to form a government in five weeks and hold elections in six months – appears to be running almost, at least, on schedule. In confirming the government on Monday morning, Abbas recognised both the damage created by division, and optimism for the future: "today” he said, “we declare the end of division that caused catastrophic harm to our cause."
 
The response from Israel was less positive. “Hamas is a terrorist organization that calls for Israel's destruction, and the international community must not embrace it,” Netanyahu reportedly told a cabinet meeting on Sunday. “That would not bolster peace, it would strengthen terror.” 
 
“I call on all responsible elements in the international community not to rush to recognize a Palestinian government which has Hamas as part of it, and which is dependent on Hamas," he said, reiterating Israel’s official response to the initial announcement of reconciliation between the two Palestinian factions.. 
 
The outright rejection could have serious implications for the newly assembled government – and the Palestinian people. On Sunday, Abbas told a group of French activists that the Israelis would boycott the Palestinians immediately after the announcement of a unity government, as well as withholding the transfer of “our money”: the $100 million of monthly taxes that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. 
 
“This is our money, not aid from Israel, and we will not stay silent,” Abbas said. “They want to punish us because we have an agreement with Hamas, which is part of our people.” Retaliation, Abbas said, would be met with a reaction. Although he did not define precisely what form that response would take, the Palestinians are yet to join the International Criminal Court. 
 
Israel’s response is not the least of the new government’s challenges. After years of bitter and often bloody division, reconciling Hamas’ rejectionist policy with the PLO commitment to negotiations will be tough. A majority of pundits and officials regard Hamas as more conciliatory and pragmatic than in the past – a position shaped, in part, by a seriously weakened international position and the reality of government in the Gaza strip. 
 
“The strength of this cabinet is that it represents all of Palestine,” Musa Abu-Gharbieh, Deputy Minister of Culture, told Palestine Monitor. “It is a temporary cabinet of professionals, and their big challenge now will be organising the coming elections.”
 

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