Abbas to lead unity government

Abbas to lead unity government

Abbas to lead unity government

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures in this file photo. AP photo

Rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, have agreed to name President Mahmoud Abbas as head of an interim government that will oversee preparations for presidential and legislative elections.

The agreement, brokered by Qatar, was signed by Abbas and Hamas leader Khaleed Mashaal. It did not specify when the elections will be held. Both leaders said they are serious about moving forward. “We promise our people to implement this agreement as soon as possible,” Abbas said. “We inform our people that we are serious about healing the wounds ... to reunite our people on the foundation of a political partnership, in order to devote our effort to resisting the (Israeli) occupation,” added Mashaal.

Abbas and Mashaal met Feb. 5 in the Qatari capital to finalize issues arising from a reconciliation agreement signed by the two factions last April, seeking to end more than four years of separate governments in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which is ruled by Abbas’ Palestinian Authority. However, both sides failed to carry out promised goodwill gestures and disagreed sharply over the composition of an interim government.

Major meeting on Feb 18

Abbas initially proposed Salam Fayyad to serve as head of the transitional unity government, but Hamas objected. Fayyad, who was appointed prime minister by Abbas in 2007 after Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, would have to step down if a transitional government is formed. Fayyad “warmly welcomed” the Qatar agreement, said Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib. The agreement states that the new Palestinian government will comprise “independent technocrats,” and will also be responsible for overseeing reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip.

The parties further agreed to hold a meeting with “all other Palestinian political factions” in Cairo on Feb. 18, when Abbas’ appointment “will be endorsed,” said a senior Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Agence France-Presse reported. “That’s when we’ll set the date for the parliamentary and presidential elections,” he said. As part of reconciliation, elections were initially set for May.

Among other major issues to be decided in Cairo are elections for the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which does not include Hamas, the official said.

The talks, which are being hosted by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, were “positive,” he said, adding that both sides reached “agreement on all the major issues” regarding the reconciliation agreement. The last Palestinian elections were held in 2006. Hamas won the parliamentary vote. With the Palestinians moving toward unity, the fate of border talks with Israel also remains uncertain. Abbas has said that the talks have run their course, and that he would only resume them if Israel made a better offer on where to draw the border with a Palestinian state. It is not clear whether Israel would negotiate with Abbas as head of a Palestinian unity government.

Hamas last month said Mashaal won’t seek re-election. However, the wording of the Hamas announcement also left open the possibility that Mashaal would be asked to stay on, even though he has led the movement since 1996, nearly twice as long as permitted under Hamas rules.