The two rival Palestinian political factions of Hamas and Fatah swore in a new unity government today, marking a major step forward for inter-Palestinian relations after seven years of bitterly divided rule.
The ceremony took place in Ramallah, the provincial capital of the West Bank, in which 17 new ministers were sworn in, including the leader of the new government, Rami Hamdallah.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas swore in an historic new unity government, comprising members of both Fatah and Hamas, on June 2.
Hamas and Fatah have been split since 2007, after Hamas won elections and took control of the Gaza Strip. The ruling Palestinian Authority, historically dominated by Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, subsequently broke off ties with Hamas after they took control of Gaza.
“This [government] will be able to answer the bigger issue of the problem of adequate and legitimate representation for Palestinian people,” Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center, told VICE News. “Which has been absent for years.”
Plans to form a reconciliation Palestinian government were announced in April and prompted Israel to pull out from the latest round of peace negotiations with Palestine.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fiercely opposed to any unity government that involves Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.
Netanyahu condemned the unity Palestinian government on Sunday, saying that it will “strengthen terrorism” and called international leaders to also not recognize it. He then convened a special security cabinet meeting today to discuss the new Palestinian government and the possibility of leveraging sanctions against it.
But despite Israel’s reaction and decision to boycott the government, the new Palestinian unity government has demonstrated little interest in causing havoc on Israel or across the Middle East.
Abbas has repeatedly said that any new Palestinian government will stick to the Palestine Liberation Organization's stated policies of nonviolence and recognition of Israel.
Abbas stated in a televised address, that the government will "abide by the commitments of the [Palestinian] Authority, its signed agreements and its political platform," and that "political negotiations will remain under the authority of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and the government will have nothing to do with this."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announcing the formation of the unity government on Palestinian television. Credit: YouTube/President M.Abbas
Abbas added that this move marks “the end of a dark page of history forever.”
Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudeineh reiterated this sentiment and that the aim of the government will be the same as before, which is establishing an independent state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital.
Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas also welcomed the new government, saying that it was a “historic move” and that “the two sides worked to end the rift for the sake of the Palestinian people.”
All ministers of the new government are technocrats and are not affiliated with any party — either Hamas or Fatah. This is important, said Munayyer, because it is a step towards national Palestinian reconciliation that goes beyond party lines.
“There is no path towards national liberation and reclaiming of rights as a divided people,” said Munayyer. “It is critical for Palestinians to have a national reconciliation in order to move forward.”
Hours before Abbas swore in the new unity government in Ramallah, Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, targeting members of Hamas responsible for launching several mortars across Israel’s southern border in recent days.
A spokesperson for the Israeli military confirmed in a statement that two targets were hit in central and northern Gaza but declined to give further details of the strike.
This is not the first time that Israel has responded to Palestinian political advancements with heavy-handed punishment — it follows a familiar pattern.
In November 2012, after Palestine pushed for membership in several United Nations bodies, Israel rushed the construction of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and cut off tax revenue to the Palestinians.
Two weeks later, Israel launched an eight-day military attack in the Gaza Strip, known as Operation Pillar of Defense, that according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, killed 167 Palestinians, at least 87 of whom were civilians.
But despite reaction from Israel, “the average Palestinian is likely to be accepting of Hamdallah and this national unity government,” said Munayyer.
And even though it is unlikely to bring about immediate change and it is unclear what exactly it will look like in the coming months or years, the government “does have an impact to the extent that it is a step in the right direction, but it is just a preliminary step in what is likely to be a long road,” said Munayyer.
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