The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have agreed to form a new unity government in the West Bank and Gaza which will be headed by Mahmoud Abbas, it was announced on Monday.
Reconciliation talks between the two factions have struggled to make progress since an agreement in principle was signed last spring. A major issue has been who would lead the government. Hamas insisted on the removal of the present prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who has strong western backing for the progress he has made on building the institutions of a future Palestinian state.
Abbas and the exiled Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, who has been pushing for reconciliation, agreed at a meeting in Qatar on the formation of the new government of independent technocrats, led by Abbas, which will be in place until elections can be held.
Meshaal said: “We are serious, both Fatah and Hamas, in healing the wounds and ending the chapter of division and reinforcing and accomplishing reconciliation.” Rapprochement was necessary “to resist the enemy and achieve our national goals”, he added.
The agreement would be “implemented in the shortest time possible”, Abbas said.
Fayyad “warmly welcomed” Monday’s agreement, a Palestinian spokesperson said. It was unclear whether he would remain in the government after stepping down as prime minister.
There was no immediate response from Ismail Haniyeh, the de facto Hamas prime minister of Gaza. Over recent months, a rift has opened between the Gaza-based leadership of the Islamist organisation and its external leadership on the group’s future strategy.
Israel and the US have voiced concern about a closer relationship between Fatah and Hamas, and are opposed to any unity government that includes Hamas. Despite Meshaal’s efforts to turn Hamas towards a strategy of popular resistance, it has not formally renounced violence and accepted Israel’s right to exist.
Under the reconciliation agreement, elections were due to be held by May but few observers believe they will take place this year. The Palestinian election commission has said more time is needed to organise polling. It is also thought Israel will not permit Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in elections.
Hamas could emerge from elections as the majority party again following its success in the last polls, in 2006. That led to increasing strife between the two factions, culminating in a bloody battle in Gaza in June 2007 when Hamas took control of the territory. Since then, the West Bank and Gaza have operated as separate political entities.
Abbas has said that talks with Israel have run into the ground, providing impetus for him to pursue internal Palestinian reconciliation. He is also expected to reactivate the Palestinian bid for recognition of a state at the United Nations. —