Abbas said seeking unity government with Hamas to counter US peace maneuvers

Abbas said seeking unity government with Hamas to counter US peace maneuvers

Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper says PA president has asked former PM Salam Fayyad to lead new coalition with aim of later calling general election

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

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 27, 2018. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool Photo via AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 27, 2018. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool Photo via AP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is making renewed efforts to form a national unity government with the Hamas terrorist group with the aim of calling long-overdue Palestinian national elections, the Arabic-language Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported Monday.

Sources told the London-based daily the maneuver is intended to prevent the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip from being isolated from the West Bank as part of the Trump administration’s peace plan, details of which have not yet been published.

According to the report, the Abbas government is convinced the US plan envisions creating a separate state in the Gaza Strip while expanding Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank.

Abbas intends to appoint former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad to lead the new unity government. The PA leader recently met with Fayyad and they discussed the matter for over two hours, the sources said.

Fayyad, who resigned in 2013 amid a power struggle with Abbas, is said to have agreed to the proposal on condition that he is a “partner and decision-maker” in the government. In addition, the former prime minister demanded the revival of the defunct Palestinian Legislative Council, of which he is a member, and expansion of membership in the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Palestinian Legislative Council last held elections in 2006 and has not met fully since 2007 due to the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip which created an acrimonious divide with the West Bank-based PA. Although the PA is tasked with governing the Palestinian territories, the PLO is the official representative of the Palestinian people as a whole.

Former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, seen here when still in office, heads a cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April 16, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Fayyad reportedly told Abbas he is not interested in being in a government that does not have full power. Among the ideas that Fayyad is said to have proposed is a Palestinian referendum on how to move forward, including setting a specific date for ending the Israeli occupation, and a non-aggression pact among Palestinian factions.

If Hamas, which openly seeks to destroy Israel, agrees to the unity government, Abbas would end measures he has taken against Gaza and its Hamas rulers including a reduction in electricity and fuel supplies, cancellation of tax exemptions, and withholding the wages of PA employees in Gaza, the sources said.

Abbas took the steps in an effort to pressure Hamas into relinquishing control of the territory where electricity, drinking water, and employment are all in short supply.

The report also quoted chair of the Fatah Central Committee Saeb Erekat as saying that a national committee, formed by Abbas, will soon publish its recommendations for solving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

According to Asharq Al-Awsat, for Fayyad to return as prime minister, he would need approval from the central committee of the Fatah party and backing from Hamas.

However, sources assessed that neither Fatah nor Hamas is likely to oppose Fayyad’s return in a comprehensive agreement, as he is seen as a unifying figure in Palestinian politics.

The report did not address whether current PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah supports the proposal and would be willing to resign.

The Abbas-Fayyad meeting came ahead of expected Egyptian efforts to end the split between Fatah and Hamas, the report noted. Repeated attempts at reconciliation between the rival parties, including some mediated by Egypt, have so far failed to produce an agreement. A key sticking point is Hamas’s refusal to accept a PA demand that it give up its weapons.

File: Palestinian lawmakers attend an emergency parliament session at the Legislative Council in Ramallah, July 11, 2007. (Ahmad Gharabli/Flash90)

US President Donald Trump’s has billed his upcoming peace plan as “the deal of the century.” Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and his Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt in June toured the region for meetings with state leaders.

The two visited Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt to discuss the much-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, as well as enlist humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip.

They did not meet with representatives from the Palestinian Authority, as Abbas cut off all contact with Washington over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

During the visit, Kushner gave a rare interview to the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds in which he urged Palestinians not to let their “scared” leadership reject the Trump administration peace plan, and voiced doubt on whether Abbas truly wanted an accord.

AFP contributed to this report.

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