Palestinian factions in Cairo agree to new PA unity government


“Better Late than Never”, Pal. Factions Agree to Form Unity Gov’t
Hanan Awarekeh Readers Number : 182

26/02/2009 “Better late than never”. Eyeing a common threat that will govern Israel for the next four years, feuding Palestinian factions have decided to reunify to face Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing Tsunami that has hit Israeli politics.

Rival Palestinian groups agreed on Thursday to form a national unity government by the end of March, faction officials said after reconciliation talks in Cairo.

Jamil al-Majdalawi, an official with the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, announced that the factions had formed several committees that would pave the way for a national unity government. “The committees will end their work and a Palestinian unity government will be formed by the end of March,” he said

Mohammed al-Hindi, deputy leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, confirmed the factions had agreed to establish the government by the end of next month.

Rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas held reconciliation talks brokered by Egypt on Thursday aimed at paving the way for the creation of a unity government, which Israel opposes and “trying to persuade whomever” that a Palestinian Authority unity government is a bad idea.”

A deal between the two factions is seen as key to moving ahead with Gaza’s reconstruction after Israel’s recent offensive. The Palestinians hope to raise $2.8 billion at an international donor’s conference in Egypt on Monday. Hamas and Fatah met in advance of Thursday’s main talks on more challenging issues like holding elections and sharing power. The two sides met in Cairo for talks mediated by Egypt’s intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman.

At a news conference Wednesday night, both sides announced they had agreed on a release of detainees. “To encourage a positive atmosphere, there will be a complete and immediate end to the arrests of political prisoners … and the release of prisoners during the discussions,” said Hamas’ senior official, Mahmoud al-Zahar. “There will be a larger number released” later. Zahar said 80 Hamas members held in the occupied West Bank, which is controlled by the Fatah movement, have been released and that 300 are still being held. Hamas has also lifted the house arrest of a number of Fatah members in the Gaza Strip.

Senior officials from Fatah, the secular movement headed by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (whose term ended on January 9), and Hamas, the Islamic resistance group that rules the Gaza Strip, agreed on confidence-building measures at a meeting on Wednesday. “A certain number of detainees will be freed right at the beginning of the dialogue,” said a joint statement. “Other detainees will be freed successively so that this issue will be totally closed before the end of the national Palestinian dialogue.”

Speaking earlier in the day, Nabil Shaath, a top Abbas aide, said the sides also agreed to immediately stop all media attacks against each other. Azzam al-Ahmed of Fatah said Thursday’s meeting will discuss the “political shape and agenda” of a future unity government.

Senior PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Wednesday that an interim government was needed “to shoulder the responsibilities of reconstructing Gaza, opening the passages [between Israel and the Gaza Strip] and carrying out the presidential and legislative elections no later than the end of 2009.”

Egypt had originally called for Palestinian reconciliation talks in November, but Hamas withdrew at the last minute, complaining that
Fatah was continuing to arrest Hamas members in the West Bank. The reconciliation process was relaunched by Egypt after Israel’s 22-day war on Gaza that ended last month with more than 1,300 Palestinians killed, including 420 children and buildings and infrastructure destroyed.
“The climate is positive and promising,” Hamas political bureau member Ezzat Resheq told journalists after Wednesday’s talks. “We hope for positive results.”

Azzam al-Ahmad, leader of the Fatah bloc in the Palestinian parliament, spoke of a “real desire on both sides to settle these questions… to achieve reconciliation, an urgent necessity above all because the peace process is not progressing and nor are efforts towards a truce.”

Hamas democratically won over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian general election but its government was boycotted by Israel and the West, and attempts at forging a national unity government failed.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Egypt was now focusing on Palestinian reconciliation as its top priority, rather than the negotiations on a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas. “We decided perhaps to change our priorities,” he said in a press conference. “The first priority was the tahdiyah, followed by the reconciliation, followed by the reconstruction conference, followed by the process of launching the peace efforts again. Today, we are concentrating on the reconciliation, but the cease-fire and the exchange of prisoners is not far from Egyptian efforts.”


Israeli Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to lobby Secretary of State Hillary Clinton next week against US recognition of a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, top advisers to Netanyahu said Wednesday.

Zalman Shoval, one of Netanyahu’s five primary foreign policy advisers, said the Netanyahu diplomatic team was “trying to persuade whomever” that a Palestinian Authority unity government is a bad idea. We shall try to convince our American friends that this is not something that would help the peace process, and that it would only make it easier for all sorts of other players – the Europeans and the Russians – to deal with Hamas,” he said. “To return Hamas as a partner is not what America is interested in.”

Shoval said history had shown that when there was an amalgamation between what he called “a moderate and an extremist party, it was only a matter of time before the extremists called the shots.” “The idea is the wrong one,” he said, adding that Netanyahu’s camp believed the right approach was to continue to isolate Hamas. I’m not saying we can prevent it, but we should try,” he said.

Hamas’s refusal to accept Israel’s existence, and its resistance activities, were core problems, another Israeli adviser said, and it would be counterproductive to overlook the problems by seeking structural reform. The adviser added that structural reform would not make the core problems disappear. He said that “Israel’s right to self-defense was sacrosanct”, and that it would continue to exercise that right when it felt it needed to.

On a visit to Cairo on the eve of the talks, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called for the Palestinians to form a new government of “technocrats” to oversee reconstruction of the economy and the political process in readiness for elections.

He said that speaking to Hamas was “the right thing to do,” but Egypt and other parties were best suited to talking directly to the group. In an interview with Reuters in Cairo, Miliband said Egypt was acting on behalf of the whole world in its dealings with Hamas. “Egypt has been nominated… to speak to Hamas on behalf of the Arab League but actually on behalf of the whole world,” Miliband said. “Others speak to Hamas. That’s the right thing to do and I think we should let the Egyptians take this forward.”

Sweden also expressed support for Palestinian reconciliation. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said his country, which takes over the rotating EU presidency on July 1, wants to help politically in the process of possibly holding new elections in the Palestinian territories. “Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is also a part of the process,” he said in Stockholm after meeting Abbas.

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