Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—After a damaging seven-year split between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, the Palestinian unity government that was sworn into office at the beginning of June seemed to herald a renewal of ties and the opening of a new era of cooperation between the two movements, together with the prospect of fresh elections.
However, just a month into its term, the tit-for-tat reprisal killings of three Israeli teenage settlers and a Palestinian boy ignited a fresh firestorm, with Israeli forces responding to Hamas rocket attacks with a massive ground, sea, and air campaign against the Gaza Strip, overshadowing attempts by both Palestinian movements to bury the hatchet.
With a five-day truce in place between the two sides, Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to the prime minister of the unity cabinet, former university professor and administrator Rami Hamdallah, about the Palestinian government’s attempts to respond to the crisis, and its attempts to pursue claims against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Asharq Al-Awsat: In what direction is the current situation in Gaza heading?
Rami Hamdallah: The [Israeli] aggression which began weeks ago remains ongoing. There are attempts by our brothers in Egypt to reach a permanent ceasefire [deal]. A 72-hour truce began on Monday. During the truce there must be Egypt-brokered, indirect negotiations between the unified Palestinian delegation and the Israeli side.
Without doubt, there are just demands which we have put forward, particularly the lifting of the unjust blockade of the Gaza strip. The blockade on Gaza has been in place for over seven years . . . We demand the blockade be lifted and the crossings opened.
Q: Do you expect the current talks in Cairo will pay off?
There is still time [ahead of us]. But the Israeli delegation is procrastinating in its responses to Palestinian demands . . . After all the massacres and attacks, there must be international action in order to end the Israeli occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. I think this is a suitable opportunity for the entire world to call for the implementation of legitimate international resolutions.
We have requested international protection from the UN and we have sent a letter through the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the UN, asking it to provide international protection for the Palestinian people in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, because international protection is an urgent need now in light of the Israeli attacks.
Q: Is Gaza in need of much help?
Definitely yes. What happened in Gaza has destroyed properties [and] lives . . . Figures speak of more than 2,000 martyrs and over 10,000 injured. Thousands of houses, mosques and churches have been destroyed. Indeed, [Gaza] is a disaster zone. We have addressed the UN in this regard in order for it . . . to provide [the] aid needed for the Palestinian people.
Q: How has the Palestinian government been carrying out its duties? What kind of responsibilities does it have now that Gaza has suffered such damage?
Since the first day [of the Israeli siege], the national reconciliation government has faced challenges. As you know, the reason for this war is to eliminate this government. Israel does not want a national unity government or reconciliation between the Palestinians. It also wants to maintain the division [between Hamans and Fatah] among the Palestinians.
Palestinian unity gives [the government] and the Palestinian people strength, even during the negotiations, and I think signing the reconciliation agreement and forming the unity government is a historic [step]. As I mentioned, Israel prevents communication between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It even prevents [communication] between ministers. Ministers in this government cannot go to the Gaza Strip and were prevented [from going there] even on the day of being sworn into office. Gaza ministers had to swear the constitutional oath via video conference. They were not allowed to come to the West Bank to swear the constitutional oath.
Since the start of the attack, we formed a central aid committee, overseen by the government, to coordinate with all international institutions and bodies, in order to provide aid for our people in Gaza. It provided all that was required from it in terms of medical and fuel supplies and tents.
Q: How does the government communicate with the ministers? How do the ministries work?
We have four ministers based in the Gaza strip and we are in constant contact with [them]. They oversee relief work in Gaza as we send them aid. They are the minister of labor, the minister of public works, the minister of women’s affairs, and the minister of justice.
Q: Have you examined Hamas’s conditions for a truce?
These are not Hamas’s conditions. So far, they are Palestinian demands. There is a unified delegation in Cairo which represents all political factions [of Palestinians], even of those in the diaspora. The demands are the lifting of the blockade and the opening of the crossings, among others. And these are not the requirements of a particular faction but the Palestinian people and leadership.
Q: What about the Palestinian government’s efforts to seek the membership of international organizations? Can you tell us about the complaint the Palestinian government has filed against Israel at the ICC?
We started this journey in April and we have [so far] joined 15 international organizations and conventions. There must now be a documentation of the [Israeli] crimes, old and new . . . Now the Palestinian factions are in the process of signing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which is a prelude to joining the Hague Convention and the ICC . . . We have formed legal teams to document and seek legal opinion . . . In the current war on Gaza, we have been documenting all attacks and crimes taking place in order to go [to the ICC] armed with all the evidence.
This is an abridged version of an interview originally conducted in Arabic.