Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Abbas to head interim Palestinian government

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is to head an interim consensus government under a deal signed with Hamas on Monday, ending a long-running disagreement over the post that stalled Palestinian reconciliation.

The accord signed in Qatar was welcomed by officials from both rival Palestinian movements Hamas and Fatah, but Israel warned Abbas to choose between reconciliation with Hamas and making peace with the Jewish state.

The full line-up of the interim national consensus government, which will supervise the run-up to long-delayed presidential and legislative elections, is to be announced in Cairo next week at a meeting of all the Palestinian factions.

The deal was sealed by Fatah head Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, head of the Islamist movement Hamas, at a ceremony in Doha in the presence of Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

The so-called "Doha Declaration" is the latest attempt by the rival movements to implement a reconciliation deal signed last April.

The declaration calls for a government of "independent technocrats" to oversee reconstruction efforts in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and to "facilitate the implementation of presidential and parliamentary elections."

Speaking to reporters after signing the declaration, Abbas said his Fatah movement "did not sign this agreement for show... but because we plan to implement it."

"Reconciliation is in the Palestinian and Arab national interest," he said, pledging to implement all terms of the agreement "as fast as possible."

Meshaal said the two factions were "very serious about closing the chapter of division and strengthening" their national unity.

The Palestinians now need to "devote all our power to confronting the occupying enemy," he said in a reference to Israel.

A senior Fatah official told AFP the new government would be announced in Cairo on February 18 at a meeting between the Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership and all Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"On the 18th of this month in Cairo, there will be a final declaration on the formation of the new government to be headed by president Mahmud Abbas," Azzam al-Ahmad said.

The deal on Monday comes after months of deadlock over the formation of an interim government, with Abbas reportedly insistent that his current prime minister Salam Fayyad keep the top post, despite fierce Hamas opposition.

After the announcement, both Fayyad and the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, welcomed the agreement.

"This achievement is a response to our people's aspirations and ambition to reunify the homeland and its institutions," Fayyad said in a statement.

Haniya "blessed the Doha declaration and confirmed that his government was ready to apply it," a statement said.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the deal.

"If Abu Mazen (Abbas) implements what was signed in Doha, he chooses to abandon the path of peace and join himself to Hamas," he told a meeting of his Likud party's ministers, according to a statement from his office.

"I say to Abu Mazen, you cannot grasp the stick at both ends. It is either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel, you cannot have both."

Under the terms of the original accord, presidential and legislative elections were to be held by May of this year, but Ahmad acknowledged that date could slip.

"The official date for the elections will be decided based on the recommendation of the electoral commission and the promulgation of a presidential decree," he said.

Speaking to AFP before the Doha deal was signed, a Palestinian official said that a final date for the polls would likely be set during the Cairo meeting.

The last Palestinian elections were held in 2006 when Hamas beat the previously dominant secular Fatah to secure more than half the seats in parliament.

Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza after a week of deadly clashes in June 2007, cleaving the Palestinian territories into rival hostile camps.

Since then, Gaza has been effectively cut off from the West Bank, which is under the control of Fatah.

The Doha declaration also calls for the Cairo talks to address the "restructuring" of the Palestinian National Council, the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, to which Hamas does not belong.

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