Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas swore in the ministers of a new unity government Monday afternoon after Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Abbas’s Fatah resolved a last-minute disagreement over a key government ministry.
Abbas hailed the “end” of Palestinian division, saying: “Today, with the formation of a national consensus government, we announce the end of a Palestinian division that has greatly damaged our national case.”
“This black page in the history (of the Palestinians) has been turned forever, and we will not allow it to come back,” he added
Hamas praised the “national consensus government, which represents all the Palestinian people,” the movement’s spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, told AFP.
The swearing in marked the end of years of division between the rival Palestinian factions, with the technocratic government planned to set up elections in the next six months.
Israel has skewered the unity deal, accusing Abbas of preferring a pact with the Islamist Hamas movement over peace with Israel and threatening punitive measures.
At the swearing in, Abbas lashed out as Israel’s refusal to recognize the government, indicating the Palestinians would continue efforts for statehood, put on hold over the past year during peace talks with Israel. “We won’t stand with our hands folded in the face of punitive measures, and we will use every legal and diplomatic tool at our disposal in the international community,” he said according to a Haaretz report.
In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh praised the “historic” move.
Hours before the swearing-in ceremony, Hamas had said that it would not recognize the unity government if it did not include a minister for prisoners affairs. At the last minute, the two sides agreed to have Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah man the post.
Abbas had left the position off the roster with the intention of delegating the matter to a committee.
The new government has 17 ministers, five of them from Gaza. Hamdallah, the current premier in the West Bank, will also hold the interior portfolio.
Abbas has already pledged that the new administration will abide by the principles laid down by the Middle East peace Quartet that call for recognizing Israel, rejecting violence and abiding by all existing agreements. However, Hamas has yet to ratify those conditions.
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. On Monday, Netanyahu hit out at European governments for condemning a shooting attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels while responding with “ambiguity” to Palestinian reconciliation.
“It is puzzling to me that governments in Europe that strongly criticize this act of murder speak with ambiguity and even friendliness about a unity government with Hamas, a terror organisation that carries out crimes like these,” he said.
Ahead of the swearing-in ceremony, US Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Abbas to express “concern about Hamas’s role in any such government,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Sunday, saying he had again stressed the importance of its acceptance of the Quartet principles.