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Palestine unity government formed despite last-minute wrangling

Hamas and Fatah have formed a unity government, although officials from Hamas were prevented from attending the ceremony
Palestine unity government Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah swears the oath of office (AFP)
Par MEE staff

Despite concerns raised by Secretary of State John Kerry earlier in the day, the United States has thrown its support behind the new Palestinian unity government following a swearing in ceremony on Monday. 

"At this point, it appears that President (Mahmoud) Abbas had formed an interim technocratic government that does not include ministers affiliated with Hamas," State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.

"Moving forward, we will be judging this government by its actions. Based on what we know now, we intend work with this government," Psaki said. 

Psaki warned that the US will be "watching closely" to ensure that the government upholds principles of non-violence and recognition of the state of Israel.

Earlier on Monday, during a telephone call with Abbas, Kerry had expressed concern regarding about Hamas' role in the new government. Abbas reportedly assured Kerry that the unity government would be committed to non-violent principles, the recognition of the state of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements made with it.

Kerry's warnings come hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the international community not to recognise the new Palestinian unity government, saying it would encourage terrorism.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas swore in the new unity government on Monday, after dealing with a last-minute rift over the issue of a minister for prisoner affairs.

The cabinet was sworn in at the Presidential Palace in the West Bank's Ramallah, in the absence of three Hamas ministers from Gaza who Israeli authorities prevented from obtaining travel permits, according to Palestine News Network.

The deal follows an eleventh hour compromise on an issue related to the Prisoners’ Affairs Ministry which had threatened to derail the process.

Hamas had insisted on Monday morning that the Prisoners’ Affairs Ministry continue its work, despite Abbas’ plans to dismantle it and start an alternative independent body affiliated to the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The two sides reached agreement on the issue just prior to the swearing in of the new cabinet. The ministry will continue its work, but the matter was not included in the cabinet that was announced today.

Abbas announced that the 17 ministers and the Secretary General of the parliament will be politically unaffiliated - the unity government formation follows years of deep political divisions between Fatah and Hamas.

In a televised statement, Abbas told reporters that Monday’s announcement marks the end of “the division that has dogged our nation and caused catastrophic harm for the last seven years”.

On the question of Israel, Abbas said that the new unity government would not “stand with [their] hands folded in the face of punitive measures”.

The cabinet, he said, would use “every legal and diplomatic tool at our disposal in the international community”.

Support from EU, Russia and US

Abbas said that he had received support from many Arab countries for the unity government, as well as from the European Union and Russia.

In a televised statement broadcast from the Gaza Strip, outgoing Prime Minister of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh welcomed the announcement of the government.

"Today we turn over the reins of government with the Palestinian resistance in good shape”, he said after the swearing-in of the new cabinet in Ramallah.

He mentioned that the Hamas bloc had harboured concerns about the reappointment of Riyad al-Maliki as foreign minister for the new cabinet.

However, he vowed to co-operate with the unity government, saying that Hamas had worked towards the success of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. 

Translation: Palestine's government after signing the oath of office in front of President Mahmoud Abbas at the Presidential Palace in Ramallah

As was expected, Rami Hamdallah was selected to head the new government. This is the third time he has taken on the role. 

Reactions to new government

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said the country should annex Area C of the West Bank In response to Monday's swearing in of a government of "terrorists in suits."

The time has come, Bennett said, “to do what is good for Israel".

Finance minister Yair Lapid said now is the time to learn more about the unity government.

""It's not the time for criticism but rather careful consideration," Lapid said. "I propose to my friends not to provide Hamas with the opportunity to spark the fire back against us, just so as to make headlines in the Israeli political sphere."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman urged Israel to make a peace agreement with the new unity government. 

"Jewish Home [Bayit Yehudi] says that between the Mediterranean and the Jordan there is no other country except Israel - and no Palestinian state - and Tzipi Livni wants two states at any price," Liberman stated. "Every minister in the government has a strategy, but the Israeli government has no strategy."

Instead, Lieberman said the Israeli government should negotiate for a two-state solution. 

"Keeping Jews in a Palestinian state would not be responsible," he said.  "We should act and not talk. I am in favour of a [peace] agreement but I will not do so at any price."

Ilan Pappe, director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at Exeter University, said Monday’s deal "looks more serious than the previous ones, if only because both sides have very few other options open for them for action.”

Most of the ministers are technocrats, and Pappe predicts that they will fare better than their predecessors and “improve the daily experience of the people on the ground.”

However, he cast doubt on the ability of the new government to effect change in the long term.

“They are being appointed for 6 months, and even the most gifted technocrats need more time to affect significantly realities on the ground," he said.

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