Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Abbas to play larger role in Palestinian unity government

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JERUSALEM — The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas announced Monday they had agreed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will head an interim unity government that will prepare for new elections, ending a prolonged stalemate over how to mend their bitter rift.

The move drew a sharp response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warned Abbas that his alliance with Hamas would doom peace efforts.

The deal announced Monday in Doha, Qatar, removes a major stumbling block to carrying out a reconciliation accord signed by the two Palestinian movements last year. The understanding, brokered by the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, was reached in talks he hosted between Abbas, who heads Fatah, and Khaled Meshal, the exiled political leader of Hamas.

In a statement, both sides said that Abbas would lead an interim government "of independent technocrats … whose task will be to facilitate presidential and parliamentary elections and begin the reconstruction of Gaza."

Fatah and Hamas were deadlocked for months over who would be prime minister of the interim government. Having Abbas at the helm, holding the title of prime minister as well as president, could help preserve Western support, including crucial financial aid, for the Palestinian Authority.

The European Union, one of the major financial backers of the Palestinian Authority, said it looked forward to continuing its support, provided the new government was committed to nonviolence, recognized Israel and accepted previous agreements and a negotiated peace settlement with Israel.

Hamas, which for years carried out deadly suicide bombings and has fired rockets into Israel, rejects those conditions. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union and has been boycotted by much of the West.

A State Department spokeswoman said U.S. officials had not had a chance to talk to Palestinian officials or review the details of the deal. "We are not going to give a grade to this thing until we have a chance to talk to Palestinian Authority leaders," Victoria Nuland said at the department's daily news briefing in Washington.

Netanyahu warned Abbas that carrying out the pact with Hamas would mean that he will "join forces with the enemies of peace."

"You can't have it both ways," he said. "It's either a pact with Hamas or peace with Israel."

Peace efforts have been stalled for well over a year. Exploratory talks last month hosted by Jordan failed to produce progress toward renewed negotiations, and Abbas is considering whether to continue those meetings.

Under the terms of the accord, the interim government, composed of professionals unaffiliated with either faction, is to prepare for elections in May, though after months of delay the timing of that vote remains uncertain. The government also is supposed to lead efforts to rebuild areas of the Gaza Strip heavily damaged by an Israeli war against Hamas in 2008 and 2009.

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