Hamas threatens to stymie Palestinian unity government

Hamas threatens to stymie Palestinian unity government

Hours before cabinet's swearing-in ceremony in Ramallah, Gaza rulers demand a minister for prisoner affairs be added to roster

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri (AP/Hatem Moussa)
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri (AP/Hatem Moussa)

Hamas will not recognize a Palestinian unity government if it does not include a minister for prisoners affairs, the Gaza-based organization announced Monday morning, hours before the new ruling body was scheduled to be sworn in.

“Hamas’s final position is that it will not agree to the announcement of a government which does not have a ministry of prisoner affairs with an acting minister,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. “Any one-sided declaration of a government is unacceptable and will render it non-consensual.”

Palestinians official were scheduled to announce the unity government, comprising 17 ministers, at 1 p.m., and it was unclear if the dispute would derail the ceremony.

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have had ministers whose duties were to monitor Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons. However, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has left the position off the roster of ministerial posts and intends to delegate the matter to a committee instead.

Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas ended several years of animosity when they reached an agreement in late April to form an interim unity government of technocrats, with full elections by year’s end.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended peace talks with Abbas after the unity government was announced, and has repeatedly stated that Israel will not work with a Palestinian leadership that includes Hamas, which Israel and much of the West consider a terror group.

Netanyahu, at the opening of a Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee meeting Monday morning, compared Hamas’s policies to an attack two weeks ago on the Brussels Jewish Museum that killed four people.

“Islamic terror is rearing its head in Europe and the most recent expression of that was the appalling murder in Brussels, Belgium,” he said. “It is bizarre, to my mind, that the governments of Europe, which condemned the murder, speak amicably with Hamas, which is a terror organization that lauds such murderous acts and carries out similar murders and terror attacks.”

Earlier Monday, MK Zahava Gal-on of the left-wing Meretz party called on Netanyahu to give the Palestinian unity government a chance.

“I call on the prime minister to see in the unity government an opportunity to reach a diplomatic solution, instead of giving knee-jerk reactions that go against the existential interests of Israel,” she said. “Netanyahu’s objection to the unity government is a pretext to thwart the peace talks. The demand that Abbas choose between Israel and Hamas once again casts Israel as refusing to give diplomacy a chance.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu convened an emergency meeting of his security cabinet, made up of eight senior ministers, to discuss Israel’s response to the imminent formation of the unity government.

The cabinet members decided not to hold any further negotiations with the PA as long as Hamas takes part in government affairs, Army Radio reported. The cabinet further ruled that Israel would reallocate some Palestinian tax money and use the funds to pay off the authority’s debts to Israeli companies, according to the report. The cabinet also barred three Hamas ministers from attending Monday’s government swearing-in ceremony, according to Israel Radio.

Netanyahu appealed to “the responsible officials in the international community not to rush to recognize a Palestinian government that relies on Hamas.”

The cabinet planned to reconvene at 2 p.m. on Monday to discuss further sanctions against the unity government.

Adiv Sterman and AP contributed to this report.

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