The new Palestinian government, scheduled to be sworn in on Monday at 1 p.m. (6 a.m. Eastern time) in the West Bank city of Ramallah, will be led by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and is to consist of 16 other ministers, some handling more than one portfolio. Three ministers are to be from the Gaza Strip following a reconciliation pact signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization, dominated by the secular Fatah faction, and Hamas, the militant Islamic movement that has ruled Gaza since 2007.
The pact echoed several previous agreements intended to repair the Fatah-Hamas rift, but this is the first time the Palestinians have followed through to form a government. It is supposed to reunite the divided territories and prepare for overdue elections in six months.
What does Fatah and its leader, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, hope to gain in the deal?
Mr. Abbas is eager to regain control of the Gaza Strip and reunite it with the West Bank under his rule, to bolster his claim as leader of all the Palestinian people and show he can deliver Gaza for a peace deal with Israel. Reconciliation is also a prime concern for the Palestinian public, so it could boost his sagging popularity. Mr. Abbas, who is 79 and serving long past his term’s 2009 expiration, is looking for a legacy and, many experts believe, an exit from the public stage, something elections could provide.
What is in it for Hamas?
Hamas, which grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been suffering politically and financially in recent years, particularly since last summer’s ouster in Egypt of President Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader. Egypt’s new military-backed government shut hundreds of smuggling tunnels that provided revenue to Hamas and critical materials for the Gaza economy, and it has also kept the Rafah crossing into Gaza closed. This has led to skyrocketing unemployment and fuel shortages in Gaza, and increased residents’ sense of imprisonment. The new government promises to reopen the Rafah crossing, and relieve Hamas of the burden of providing for Gaza’s day-to-day needs.
Will this unite Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza?
Travel between the West Bank and Gaza remains controlled by Israel, which might further restrict it as part of sanctions against the new government. But reconciliation certainly helps restore an emotional connection: already, people have welcomed the renewed circulation of newspapers from the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem across the territory. In the last several years, the separate governments have passed some separate laws that will need to be reconciled. Hamas has tried to impose Islamic mores on Gazan society, including dress codes at universities, and bans on women smoking water pipes or unwed couples walking on the beach; lifting them could lessen the alienation felt between residents.
How will the new government change things on the ground?
It remains unclear. The security forces in Gaza will remain in place, reporting to a new interior minister. Similarly, there is no plan yet on what to do about the 40,000 Gaza residents who have been working in the Hamas government and the 70,000 Fatah-affiliated employees of the Palestinian Authority who for years have been paid to sit idle.
What might Israel do?
In the past, Israel has withheld tax revenue it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf, canceled permits that ease travel across the West Bank and Jerusalem, and closed the commercial crossing it controls into Gaza. It has promised to hold Mr. Abbas responsible for any rockets fired from Gaza, which could mean retaliation in the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel called on other nations on Sunday “not to run to recognize” the new government. Israeli officials have also threatened that nations that consider Hamas a terrorist group — including the United States — could be subject to lawsuits if they continued to provide aid to the Palestinians under the new government.
How will Europe and the United States react?
Cautiously. The European Union declared on May 12 that it would continue financial and political support to a Palestinian government of independent ministers as long as it adhered to international principles, including recognizing Israel and renouncing violence. The State Department has made similar statements, though it is likely to face pressure from pro-Israel forces in Congress. Language in the appropriations bill, which allocated $440 million to the Palestinian Authority, bans Washington from funding any government in which Hamas has “undue influence.” American officials say they will watch how the new government operates.
What about the peace process?
Israel halted the American-brokered talks the day after the reconciliation pact was signed and has vowed never to negotiate with any entity “backed by Hamas.” The Obama administration has paused its intervention in the peace process. Mr. Abbas has continued to say he is open to resuming negotiations, but under conditions — that Israel freeze construction in West Bank settlements and agree to discuss borders — that Mr. Netanyahu rejects.
President Shimon Peres, who is departing his largely ceremonial post this summer, and Mr. Abbas plan to pray for peace together with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Sunday afternoon.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service — if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.
(via NY Times)