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Train of Palestinian reconciliation at a new station

The next few days will be crucial in determining how the new Palestinian government will approach exercising its functions

GAZA CITY - The formation of a new Palestinian government between Fatah and Hamas announced on Monday is an important station on the path to reconciliation, “but there still many stations to be reached before achieving real unity based on partnership among all Palestinians.”

With these words, Amjad Al-Shawa, head of the Palestinian NGOs network in the Gaza Strip, welcomed the government of national consensus, but told IPS that all decisions previously taken during the period of division should now be cancelled.

“The formation of a government of consensus imposes major responsibilities on us as civil institutions to work on enforcing the reconciliation agreement and contribute effectively to national action on the grounds of partnership in the formulation of national plans.”

“We demand that Palestinian rights be ensured, including reopening of all closed societies during the time of division and realisation of the rule of law,” Amjad al-Shawa added.

The new Palestinian government announced to put an end to the political division between Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is the third government headed by Ramy al-Hamdallah, who succeeded former Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and is the 17th government since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994.

The Palestinian unity government was sworn in at the PLO headquarters in Ramallah, in the presence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Four ministers from Gaza were unable to attend after Israel denied their access to the West Bank.

The role of the government of national consensus is to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories in addition to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, which indicates the intention of the new government to give priority to Gaza and try to break the blockade since the Hamas government took office in mid-June 2007.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a televised address to the Palestinian people that the new government would mean the end of internal division which has harmed the Palestinian cause, saying that the new government is a transitional government, whose mission is to prepare for elections.

Abbas stressed that, like its predecessors, the national consensus government remains committed to the agreement signed internationally by the Palestinian National Authority, and to the political programme adopted by the institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The mandate for political negotiations, he stressed, will remain with the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

He warned Israel that any punitive actions prejudicial to the interests of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government would not pass without an appropriate response.

The Palestinian president’s remarks clearly reflect Palestinian concern about the possibility of the punitive action from Israel that has been voiced by members of the Netanyahu government if the process of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas continues.

These threats concern Hamas in particular, the militant Islamic faction that Israel and many Western countries consider a terrorist organisation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not take long to act following the announcement of the new Palestinian government. His Political-Security Cabinet was immediately summoned for an urgent meeting to discuss ways of responding to the Palestinian Authority as a result of the joint government with Hamas.

The cabinet decided to grant Netanyahu authority to impose sanctions on the Palestinian National Authority and the government of reconciliation without specifying the details.

Observers say that this is a sign that that the Israeli cabinet has chosen a centrist path to satisfy two extremes: the headstrong Naftali Bennett,Minister of the Economy and the leader of the right-wing ‘The Jewish Home’ political party, who rejects any settlement or compromise with the Palestinians, demanding punishment and annexation of their land to bring it under “Israeli sovereignty”, and Yair Lapid, Minister of Finance and chairman of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) political party, who called for waiting, joining Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said that the Israeli government  should not rush to respond to the Palestinians.

The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, which has spent seven years ruling Gaza under a tight Israeli siege, almost continuous closure of crossings leading to Gaza and successive financial crises, has stepped down and Ismail Haniya, former prime minister of the government in Gaza told a press conference that he welcomed the new Palestinian consensus government and stressed the need to end division.

One of the challenges facing the new Palestinian government is to repair Gaza’s relationship with Egypt, which is now expected to open the Rafah crossing which links the Gaza Strip with the rest of world. Egypt had placed the formation of a national government of unity as a condition for opening the Rafah crossing.

Meanwhile, Egypt welcomed the formation of the new Palestinian government. In a statement Monday, Egyptian foreign ministry spokesperson Badr Abdel-Atti said: “The formation of a government of Palestinian national consensus is an important step to support Palestinian unity and the restoration of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination and establishment of their own independent and sovereign state based on the borders of 4 June 1967.”

The next few days will be very important for how the new Palestinian government goes about exercising its functions, especially in the Gaza Strip, which has suffered greatly during years of abuses and violations of the rights of individuals and institutions.

The new government will need time and concrete steps on the ground to restore the confidence of the Palestinian people.

- Khaled Alashqar is a journalist with the Inter-Press Service.

This article was originally published by Inter-Press Service. Republished with permission.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.  

Photo credit: Palestinians during a sit-in before the former prime minister Ismael Hanyia’s house to support Palestinian reconciliation. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

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