By Shimon Z. Klein 

After much deliberations and violence between Hamas and Fatah, a national unity government was formed. It is questionable whether this government will remain stable and govern the Palestinian people as it claims it would. If one follows the incidents of extreme violence, hate and lack of trust between Hamas and Fatah, the long term possibility of this occurring is not good. The National unity government is based on the Palestinian Prisoners’ document, which mentions Israel in terms of its occupation of Palestinian land. It does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, but it does acknowledge Israel as a fact. On the one hand, there is duplicity of intention here, while on the other hand it is a round about way of granting Israel de facto recognition.

The acceptance of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements remains rather vague. The Prisoner’s document does state that previous agreements including international agreements will be respected. It does not give up violence but instead “affirms that that resistance is a legitimate right of the Palestinian People”. The document continues “halting resistance depends on ending the occupation and achieving freedom and return of refugees to their land and properties”. It also calls for the extension of the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians including the West Bank. The impression that one gets about the National unity Government is that there is an attempt at “watering down” the extremism that is so characteristic of Hamas for overseas consumption, so that the Palestinians have a greater chance of having their sanctions suspended and receiving much needed financial aid.
The following is a list of the 25 ministers in the new Palestinian government, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

· Prime Minister: Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas, incumbent

· Deputy Prime Minister: Azzam al-Ahmed, Fatah, new

· Foreign Minister: Ziad Abu Amr, independent, new

· Finance Minister: Salam Fayyad, independent, new

· Interior Minister: Hani Kawasmeh, independent, new

· Information Minister: Mustafa Barghouti, independent, new

· Telecommunication and Technology Minister: Yousef al-Mansi, Hamas, new

· Waqf and Religious Affairs Minister: Mohammed Tartouri, Hamas, new

· Planning Minister: Samir Abu Eisha, Hamas-backed independent, veteran

· Local Governments Minister: Mohammed Barghouti, Hamas, veteran

· Youth and Sports Minister: Bassem Naim, Hamas, veteran

· Economics Minister: Ziad Zaza, Hamas, veteran

· Justice Minister: Ali Sartawi, Hamas, new

· Education Minister: Nasser al-Shaer, Hamas-backed independent, veteran

· Agriculture Minister: Mohammed al-Agha, Hamas, veteran

· Minister for Women’s Affairs: Amal Siyam, Hamas, new

· Tourism Minister: Khouloud Ihadeb Deibas, independent, new

· Health Minister: Radwan al-Akhras, Fatah, new

· Transportation Minister: Saadi al-Krunz, Fatah, new

· Labor Minister: Mahmoud Aloul, Fatah, new

· Public Works Minister: Samih al-Abed, Fatah, new

· Minister for Prisoner Affairs: Tayseee Abu Sneineh, Fatah, new

· Culture Minister: Bassam Salhi, Peoples Party (Communist), new

· Social Affairs Minister: Saleh Zidan, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, new

· Minister without portfolio: Wasfi Kabaha, Hamas, veteran

An interesting observation is that Hamas has not included well-known hardliners, such as Dr. Mahmoud Zahar (previously foreign minister in the Hamas government). The appointments have resulted in some dissatisfaction with the coalition amongst some Hamas members. They view this development as a “watered-down” Hamas that is willing to make compromises.

The new foreign minister, Ziad Abu Amr, is a Fatah member. He obtained a doctorate from Georgetown University and has Hamas support. Despite that he has close ties with the West, which could be positive.

Israel claims that the new national unity government is a retrogressive step. I think that Israel’s assessment is premature and there does seem to be potential for pragmatism and eventual desire for recognition of Israel despite the hard line rhetoric coming from PM Ismail Haniyeh who stated that he would never recognize Israel’s right to exist. It would be prudent for Israel to adopt a “wait and see” attitude in order to evaluate the deeds of the new government rather than the rhetoric of one or two individuals in it. There have been no violent statements in the mould of Iran’s Ahmadinajad calling for Israel’s destruction.  Israel has ruled out talks with the Palestinian government because of Hamas’s refusal to accept demands, set by a Quartet of foreign peace mediators, that it renounce violence, recognize the Jewish state, and accept past interim peace deals.

According to Ynet, 17th March 2007, Abbas spoke at the ceremony and said, “Today we begin a new phase in our national struggle to establish an independent Palestinian state. This is a struggle initiated by the shahid, Yasser Arafat, who we praise today in our national unity.”
He urged the international community to “end the embargo on the Palestinian authority”.
Abbas then addressed Israel and said, “I call on you to walk the path of peace. We are ready for an immediate, unconditional, diplomatic peace process. I’m telling you that the settlements, the separation fence, and violence are not leading to security and peace.”
“We are extending our hands to you for peace, and co-existence built on mutual respect that will end the suffering of both our people,” Abbas continued.
The Palestinian president also said that all efforts would be made to bring about the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

“The issue of the prisoner exchange, and the release of Palestinian prisoners, will continue to be on the top of our list of priorities. We will make every effort to release every last one of our prisoners,” Abbas added.

‘Occupation source of instability’
Haniyeh continued to say that the new Palestinian unity government “is committed to the right of return, honors agreements signed by the PLO, and views the occupation as the source of instability in the region”. Haniyeh added that the government would “fight the Israeli plans to harm Jerusalem and its identity and it will set up a special committee and budget for establishing the Palestinians’ grip and resistance in Jerusalem”. 
While the new government is committed to the right of return of Palestinian refugees which Israel would never accept, it does not mean that this issue should not come up for serious discussion until a solution acceptable to both sides can be found. This could be the Palestinian opening gambit for negotiations in the future. It should not be rejected outright. The desire to end the total anarchy in Palestine and some form of rapprochement with Israel is desirable and it would certainly be easier under a national unity government with Mahmoud Abbas as president.


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