Palestinian PM: Stop Israel from punishing us

After establishing unity government, Rami Hamdallah announces Gaza visit, urges global solidarity with prisoners

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah speaks during a press conference following the first cabinet meeting of the new Palestinian unity government in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 3, 2014. (photo credit: Abbas Momani/AFP)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah speaks during a press conference following the first cabinet meeting of the new Palestinian unity government in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 3, 2014. (photo credit: Abbas Momani/AFP)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Tuesday urged the international community to pressure Israel to refrain from taking punitive measures against the Palestinians following the establishment of a Palestinian unity government with Hamas.

Hamdallah, an academic and political independent who has served as premier of the Palestinian Authority since his predecessor, Salam Fayyad, resigned in 2013, was asked by PA President Mahmoud Abbas to stay on and head the new unity government.

In a press conference in Ramallah on Tuesday, a day after Abbas swore in the ministers of the new unity government, Hamdallah called on the international community to ensure that Israel sends the Palestinians the tax revenues it collects on their behalf.

He also urged global solidarity with Palestinian detainees on hunger strike in Israeli prisoners, calling for “support for the Palestinian people with a view to ending the suffering of hunger-striking detainees.”

He also assured European diplomats that his new unity government would respect past agreements with Israel, after chairing the cabinet’s first meeting.

“Hamdallah stressed that the government is committed to all international agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation… international political initiatives and peaceful solutions,” his office said.

Hamdallah was briefing EU representatives to the Palestinian territories on his new government, telling them also that his cabinet would focus on service provision and resolving pressing water issues in the Gaza Strip.

He later gave UN peace envoy Robert Serry the same assurances, adding that the government’s “main mission is to prepare for free and democratic elections,” a separate statement said.

During his speech Tuesday, Hamdallah also announced that Abbas and members of the new unity government would visit the Gaza Strip in the near future.

“Gaza is a precious part of the homeland,” Hamdallah was quoted by Lebanon’s Daily Star as saying.

“All members of the government will go to Gaza despite the measures taken by Israel to prevent Gaza-based ministers from going to Ramallah,” he reportedly said.

He said the delegation might travel to Gaza via Egypt rather than via Israel.

The new government was sworn in by Abbas on 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.

In a move praised by the Palestinians, the US has pledged to support the new government and work with it.

Israel, however, has skewered the unity deal, accusing Abbas of preferring a pact with the Islamist Hamas movement over peace with Israel and threatening punitive measures.

On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said in a Palestinian television interview that Washington’s endorsement was the Palestinians’ “first win” in its diplomatic battle against Israel, Israel Radio reported.

Israel, he reportedly said, had expected the American reaction to be “vastly different,” but had “failed” in isolating the new Palestinian government and had isolated itself instead.

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.

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 Hamdallah man the post.

However, on Tuesday, Hamdallah said it would be manned by Social Affairs Minister Shawki al-Essa.

Pan-Arab daily Al-Quds al-Arabi has described Hamdallah as a “solid, upright man with patriotic principles” who had been dropped into “the jungle of the Muqataa [the president’s headquarters] among the lions and hyenas.”

But the university professor has managed to impose himself upon the volatile Palestinian political scene, despite initial predictions by the Israeli media that he was on a “suicide mission.”

A political independent, but known to be close to the Fatah movement of president Abbas, Hamdallah is hailed as a moderate pragmatist, although he lacks Fayyad’s international recognition.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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