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Rival Palestinian factions agree to unity government

Staff Reporter

Rival Palestinian factions agreed on Monday to form a power-sharing government in the hope of ending a crippling international economic blockade. Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader who heads the current government, will remain Prime Minister in the new Cabinet, according to officials.

Rival Palestinian factions agreed on Monday to form a power-sharing government in the hope of ending a crippling international economic blockade. Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader who heads the current government, will remain Prime Minister in the new Cabinet, according to officials.

Although Hamas still refuses to recognise Israel, a senior aide said the group has agreed to delegate negotiating power to Mahmoud Abbas, the more moderate President and head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which does recognise the Jewish state. Palestinian officials believe this formula will be enough to satisfy Israel and the international community.

Abbas, who is also head of the Fatah party, emerged from hours of talks in Gaza with Haniyeh to announce the deal.

“The continuous efforts to form a national unity government have ended successfully with the announcement of a political programme for this government,” he said. “Efforts in the next few days will continue to complete the formation of the national unity government.”

An aide to Abbas said the president would dissolve the current Hamas-dominated government within 48 hours ahead of a new national unity Cabinet. But senior Hamas figures suggested it might take several more days.

After Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January, Israel and the international community halted hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, demanding that the new government recognise Israel and stop violence. That triggered an economic crisis, with 160 000 civil servants, including doctors, teachers and the security forces, unpaid for seven months.

Israel and Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was in Jerusalem and Ramallah at the weekend, have said they would talk to a new coalition government so long as it meets three conditions: recognising Israel, renouncing violence and accepting past peace agreements.

Hamas insists it will not change its charter, which calls for Israel to be replaced by an Islamic state. “We will never recognise the legitimacy of the occupation,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesperson.

But Ahmed Yusuf, a senior Hamas adviser, said that negotiating power would be handed to Abbas as head of the PLO—an umbrella group that includes nearly all Palestinian factions except radicals such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. “It will be President Abbas who will go and negotiate with the world community and the Israelis,” said Yusuf. “We are going to give him a full mandate to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, and whenever he has an agreement with either the Israelis or the world community he will come back and address it to the government and the Parliament.”

Yusuf also said it had been agreed that Haniyeh would remain prime minister. There would be about 24 seats in the new Cabinet, of which eight might go to Hamas, four to Fatah and the remainder to independents, technocrats and other political factions.

In another concession, Hamas accepted the new government would abide by previous peace agreements. “The government will honour all previous agreements between the Palestinian Authority and the world community,” Yusuf said.

If the new government is recognised by Israel and the West, it will first have to tackle the question of the captured Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit. Since his capture in June, Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed around 250 people.

Israel said on Monday that peace talks might restart if the new government released Shalit. “If that were to happen, we would have a re-energised peace process and new momentum in the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue,” Mark Regev, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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