London and Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a new unity government in a televised ceremony on Monday, after a dispute between Hamas and Fatah over a government ministry was resolved at the last minute.
In a prepared statement broadcast after the ceremony, Abbas said: “Today, we declare the end of the split and regaining the unity of the homeland and [its] institutions . . . This black page in our history has been closed forever and will never come back.”
Hamas initially objected to the abolition of the Ministry of Prisoner Affairs, but Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayeh said the matter was settled only moments before the ceremony began.
The details of the compromise have yet to emerge. Under the proposal put forward by Fatah, issues surrounding Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would be handled by a separate committee that answered to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
Hamas was also unhappy with the choice of foreign minister. A spokesman for the organization, Sami Abu Zuhri, said: “We still reject Riyad Al-Maliki as foreign minister in the national unity government. He is a persona non grata, nationalistically, and has extremely negative views particularly regarding the Gaza Strip.”
The formation of a new government follows an agreement between the two sides April 23 to end a seven-year split between the two movements, which has left Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah the West Bank.
Under the agreement, a cabinet of independent technocrats will prepare for a fresh round of elections in the Palestinian territories within six months.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the international community not to recognize the Palestinian national unity government.
In a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu warned the world countries that recognizing this government would only “strengthen terror, not peace.”
“Hamas is a terrorist organization sworn to the destruction of Israel, and the international community must not embrace it,” he said.
Rebuffing Netanyahu’s comments, the Palestinian Presidency insisted on Sunday that the planned unity government, which came as part of the April reconciliation agreement, has received an international welcome.
“The international community, in its entirety, has previously encouraged and welcomed [the government] and congratulated President Mahmoud Abbas on his big stride towards uniting the homeland and the people,” a presidential spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Palestinian news agency.
The spokesman added that the new government has a “clear” mission, which is to prepare for elections within six months, pointing out: “It will comprise independent national figures and abide by the political platform of the president, which is aimed at the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli authorities have prevented three of the men nominated as ministers in the new cabinet from travelling from Gaza to the West Bank to join the swearing-in before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel has also launched an international campaign against the Palestinian unity government, lobbying the White House and Congress not to recognize it or transfer economic aid, with similar measures expected in Europe.
An Israeli political source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, described the formation of the new Palestinian government as “an extremely negative step,” saying that Israel would change its policy towards the Palestinian president and would from now on consider him “a partner of Hamas” and responsible for “[any] attacks launched from the Gaza Strip.”
Speaking to a foreign delegation two days ago, President Abbas said: “The Israelis have informed us that if we form the government with Hamas, they will boycott us, but Hamas is part of the Palestinian people.”
Kifah Ziboun contributed reporting from Ramallah.